Asia Pacific

Hong Kong student protester dies after fall during clash with police

AP, Reuters, AFP-JIJI

A Hong Kong university student who fell off a parking garage after police fired tear gas during clashes with anti-government protesters died Friday in a rare fatality after five months of unrest, fueling more outrage in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.

The Hospital Authority said the 22-year-old died Friday morning but did not provide further details.

Some 1,000 masked protesters marched through the busy Central business district at lunchtime, chanting “Disband the police force,” “Hong Kong people, revenge” and “A blood debt must be paid in blood.” Some carried white flowers and placards that read “Hong Kong is a police state.”

Protesters demanded justice for Chow Tsz-Lok and hurled abuse at several police officials on site, calling them “murderers.”

“His death is a reminder to us that we cannot give up,” one protester said on local television.

Although the cause of his fall has not been determined, it deepened anger against police, who have been accused of heavy-handed tactics, including widespread use of tear gas and pepper spray since protests demanding democratic reforms started in June.

Chow had been in a coma with brain injury since he was found early Monday sprawled in a pool of blood on the second floor of the building.

Police believed he plunged from an upper floor, but his fall was not captured by security cameras.

Minutes earlier, television footage showed riot police firing tear gas at the building after objects were hurled down at the officers in the street when they chased off a mob.

Police denied any wrongdoing, saying their use of tear gas was justified. They have also denied allegations of interfering with rescuers treating the student, or blocking the ambulance that took him to a hospital.

Police didn’t rule out the possibility he was fleeing from tear gas but noted officers fired from a distance. Police also denied claims that officers pushed the victim down.

“Today we mourn the loss of the freedom fighter in HK,” Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy campaigner, said on Twitter. “We will not leave anyone behind — what we start together, we finish together. Given the losses suffered by HK society in the past month, the gov must pay the price.”

The government expressed “great sorrow and regret” over Chow’s death despite the fact he underwent surgery and treatment.

“The police have stated earlier that they attach great importance to the incident and the crime unit is now conducting a comprehensive investigation with a view to finding out what happened,” it said in a statement.

Demonstrators had thronged the hospital this week to pray for Chow, leaving flowers and hundreds of get-well messages on walls and notice boards inside the building. Students also staged rallies at universities across the former British colony.

“Wake up soon. Remember we need to meet under the LegCo,” said one message, referring to the territory’s Legislative Council, one of the targets of the protest rallies. “There are still lots of things for you to experience in your life.”

Another read, “Please add oil and stay well” — a slogan, meaning “keep your strength up,” that has become a rallying cry of the protest movement. Students and young people have been at the forefront of the hundreds of thousands who have taken to the streets against perceived meddling by Beijing.

There have been only few fatalities amid the unrest, with previous reports of deaths by suicide and a man who fell to his death while hanging pro-democracy banners on a building. Last month, police shot two teens with live bullets in separate incidents but both recovered.

Chow, an active netball and basketball player, had been studying a two-year undergraduate degree in computer science.

Chow’s death came on graduation day for many students at his university, located in the Clear Water Bay district.

At the University of Science and Technology, Chow’s schoolmates staged rallies this week and on Thursday disrupted the graduation ceremony. The university president dabbed away tears as he announced Chow’s “tragic” death Friday, the second day of the convocation, with the audience standing to observe a moment of silence. The ceremony was cut short, and black-clad masked students turned the stage into a memorial for Chow. White flowers were laid below the stage as students announced plans to boycott class for a week and demanded the truth in Chow’s death.

The student union said it would hold another vigil in the evening. The university urged students to stay calm to “avoid further clashes and tragedy.”

Calls emerged online for other memorial events to mourn Chow in multiple locations, including the suburban garage where he fell. Protesters have been urged to dress in black and wear masks to remember Chow. More rallies can be expected over the weekend.

The protests were sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill to the mainland that many see as Beijing’s creeping interference on rights guaranteed to Hong Kong when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The movement has since expanded to include other demands, including direct elections for the city’s leaders and an independent investigation into alleged police brutality.

Embattled Chief Executive Carrie Lam has refused to budge and provoked more anger last month by invoking emergency powers to ban the wearing of facial coverings at rallies. More than 3,300 people have been arrested, and Beijing has indicated it may tighten its grip to quell the unrest.