Tens of thousands of people reportedly took the streets of Hong Kong Friday after a 22-year-old student died following a mysterious fall near the vicinity of a protest site.
Chow Tsz-lok fell from the third to the second floor of a car parking building on Monday and spent the week in intensive care. He endured two surgeries before dying on Friday morning, reportedly of cardiac arrest.
There are no official reports identifying Chow as a protester or explaining his presence at the car park with, for example, a car belonging to him present at the facility. Police have also offered no explanation for his fall. The car park released surveillance camera footage that did not show the moment of the fall, providing no more clarity to the situation.
Police were subduing a pro-democracy protest in the general vicinity of the parking lot in Tseung Kwan O on Sunday, leading many to believe that Chow was fleeing clouds of tear gas when he ran into the parking lot and fell a story down, smashing his head on the concrete. An unnamed first responder reportedly said Chow had indeed fled tear gas. Protesters have also accused police of blocking first responders in an ambulance from getting to Chow in time to save him.
Chow was a second-year student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) studying computer science.
Hong Kong broadcaster RTHK reported that “tens of thousands” gathered across the city on Friday night to mourn Chow and demand answers from the police. The protests in Chow’s name were peaceful, consisting largely of memorials in his name and marching and chanting. Protesters reportedly flooded the car park where he fell with paper cranes, a symbol of peace, and created a makeshift memorial of flowers and candles.
Mourners similarly decorated the hall of the hospital where Chow died with paper cranes and flowers.
Elsewhere, protesters – many young colleagues from HKUST – marched and chanted throughout the day, using both the traditional slogans of the pro-democracy movement, like “Five Demands, Not One Less,” and “Hongkongers, revenge!” in Chow’s honor. The Asian news outlet Coconuts reported lunchtime protests on Friday in addition to the growing ones on Friday evening local time.
The pro-democracy movement erupted in June in response to a proposed law that would have allowed communist China to extradite anyone present in Hong Kong if accused of violating communist laws. The law that grants China sovereignty over Hong Kong prevents it from enforcing communism on the capitalist former British colony, making the bill illegal, but lawmakers threatened to push it through the Legislative Council, anyway.
The protesters have made five demands of the government: the full withdrawal of the extradition bill, direct election of lawmakers, an investigation into police brutality, an end to calling protesters “rioters,” and freedom for the city’s political prisoners.
The government has only granted the withdrawal of the extradition bill so far, leading to the protest slogan “five demands, not one less.”
Towards the end of the evening, RTHK reported some conflict and shots fired by police in response to the protests in Chow’s name. The police reportedly responded to Molotov cocktails thrown their way; it is not clear if the protesters attacking them were part of the marches for Chow. RTHK reported at least one reporter injured in the scuffle.
Protesters are now chanting "Hongkongers, revenge" pic.twitter.com/uv5eJNas79
— Vicky Wong 黃瑋殷 (@vickywong710) November 8, 2019
Spontaneous marches and rallies are taking place in at least Central and Mong Kok at lunchtime on Friday, in reaction to the death of university student after an apparent fall near police operations in Tseung Kwan O.
— Hong Kong Free Press (@HongKongFP) November 8, 2019
The government of Hong Kong issued an official statement expressing “great sorrow and regret” at Chow’s death.
“The Police has 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,” the statement read.
At a press conference on Friday, police asserted that no officer chased Chow into the car park and that surveillance footage showed him “wandering” in the building, according to the Chinese propaganda outlet Global Times. The wandering suggested he did not flee into the building in a rush, like reports suggested tying him to the protests. Authorities also denied blocking an ambulance to treat Chow.
The owners of the property also published surveillance video this week following the fall. According to the Hong Kong Foreign Press (HKFP), the video does not show any visible tear gas in the car park – the video also does not show Chow falling:
An anonymous police source told Ming Pao that Chow entered the car park at 12:20am. The source said officers fired tear gas between 12:41am and 12:57am outside of the car park – after Chow entered. They said the claim that Chow had entered the facility to escape tear gas was unfounded.
The footage also did not appear to show police chasing Chow. A burst of light appearing around the time as Chow’s fall was captured by the security camera on the second floor at 1:02am, but its cause remains unclear.
Amnesty International has called for an “urgent” probe into the circumstances surrounding Chow’s death.
“Reports that Chow Tsz-lok was fleeing tear gas when he fell demonstrate the dangers of indiscriminate deployment of tear gas, underline the need for the Hong Kong police to exercise restraint and try to deescalate clashes with protesters,” Man-Kei Tam, Director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said in a statement. “There is little faith in existing internal investigative mechanisms. This is why we are calling for an independent and impartial investigation into Chow Tsz-lok’s death – as well as all instances of excessive force against protesters during the Anti-ELAB [extradition bill] demonstrations, and to deliver prosecutions, justice and reparation.”
“We don’t believe the police have a fair investigation of this case because every day, they lie on TV,” one of the protesters, identifying herself as “Mary,” told Coconuts Hong Kong. “It’s meaningless. It’s not possible to find the truth of this incident. They are only doing something to cover their faults.”