- Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung says ministers cannot visit everyone affected by demonstrations when asked about victims of Yuen Long attack
- But he says city leader’s meeting at Kowloon Mosque was about highlighting importance of religious freedom
Hong Kong's No 2 official has said the city leader visited a mosque caught up in a police operation at the weekend in a show of respect for religious freedom, as he rejected suggestions that officials lacked empathy for residents injured during protests.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung was referring to Monday's meeting between Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the police chief and the Islamic community, held the day after the entrance to Kowloon Mosque was sprayed with blue solution from a water cannon being used to disperse anti-government protesters in Nathan Road.
Lam's visit to the city's biggest mosque came hours before chaos returned to northern Hong Kong on Monday night, when police fired tear gas at barricade-building demonstrators, who were marking the three-month anniversary of the Yuen Long attack, which left 45 people injured at the hands of a white-clad mob armed wooden sticks and metal poles.
Cheung hosted a media briefing on Tuesday in his capacity as the city's acting chief executive, with Lam on an official visit in Tokyo.
At the briefing, Cheung was asked why no official had visited any of those injured in the Yuen Long attack, or any other shops or institutions affected during Sunday's protest, which centred around Mong Kok and Tsim Tsa Tsui.
"We certainly can't possibility visit everybody there, but for every single incident, as I said, we do show our concern," he said.
"We don't want to send a wrong message because of that incident (on Sunday) that we are not mindful of the importance of religious freedom … We do respect, particularly, religious freedom in Hong Kong. This is a very important core value of Hong Kong."
Police said on Monday it "would not help" to identify the officers operating the water cannon vehicle at the time. But Cheung said if people were upset by the incident, they could still lodge complaints through the established mechanism.
"It's easy to find out who are the officers operating the vehicle … and with the video, photos and other information available, I believe that the force will look into every incident in question," Cheung said on Tuesday.
After the July 21 attacks, Cheung apologised for police's alleged slow response to reports about the rampage. But his remarks were strongly criticised by police officers, and he had to backtrack on his statement.
Cheung was criticised online last week after he said people should move on from the Yuen Long attacks and "look forward".
Asked if officials lacked empathy with injured residents, Cheung argued on Tuesday he was only asking people to do so as the Independent Police Complaints Council, the force watchdog, had been looking into the incident.
Separately, Mohan Chugani, the former president of Indian Association of Hong Kong hit with the dye outside the mosque on Sunday, said Chris Tang Ping-keung, the deputy commissioner of police (operations), had phoned him and apologised for what Tang called "a very unfortunate accident".
Hong Kong police break down the cost of Sunday's night of violence
Lam and Commissioner of Police Stephen Lo Wai-chung have also apologised for the incident, which has attracted condemnation, including from those blasted with the dye.
"I told him that Hong Kong police, which was called Asia's finest, has now become Asia's worst," Chugani said on a radio programme on Tuesday. "He responded and said 'I know and I will handle'."
Chugani said he accepted the apologies from Lam and Tang in principle, but he urged police to set the record straight by making clear there were no protesters at the scene when the water cannon fired at a small group outside the mosque.
"You have to admit it if you have done wrong … Tell the truth for once and it won't cost your life," he said, calling police remarks at Monday's police press conference that they were trying to protect the mosque "trash talk".
Chugani " alongside fellow spray victims lawmaker Jeremy Tam Man-ho, Muslim businessman Philip Khan and Hong Kong Unison's Phyllis Cheung Fung-mei " formally lodged a grievance on Tuesday with the Complaints Against Police Office at Wan Chai Police Station in relation to the incident, which referred to the force's "unnecessary use of authority".
At Monday's briefing, Swalikh Mohammed, superintendent at Cyber Security and Technology Crime Bureau, said one of their missions was to protect the mosque after the Muslim community had expressed fears they would be a target of extreme protesters.
Mohammed said officers did not aim at the mosque, but some water "accidentally" splashed on the front gate.
Hong Kong has been in the grip of often-violent protests since June, roused by the now-withdrawn extradition bill, which would have allowed for extradition to mainland China.
Additional reporting by Martin Choi
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