Grief Sweeps Through Hong Kong, Where Protester’s Death Portends Further Unrest

By Colin Dwyer

Students of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology take part in a march toward the school president’s lodge Friday, following the death of a student injured during clashes between police and protesters a few days ago.

Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images

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Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images

Roughly five months since massive protests first spread through Hong Kong, unrest has flared anew after a student died of injuries sustained during a protest. Chow Tsz-lok, a 22-year-old student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, died Friday of brain injuries he suffered in a fall as police dispersed protesters from a parking garage earlier this week.

Chow is believed to be the first person to die in violence directly related to the protests.

He had been hospitalized since early Monday, when he was found unconscious in a pool of blood after police teargassed protesters in the parking garage. Police say it appears he fell one story, though what caused his fall is disputed. The circumstances of Chow’s death remain under investigation.

Thousands of people turned out to mourn the student on Friday, gathering at the spot where he fell and leaving flowers in his memory. At the university itself, which was celebrating graduation the same day, school President Wei Shyy called for a moment of silence. And that night, demonstrators also observed a candlelight vigil on campus.

HKUST president Wei Shyy wipes away tears after asking for a moment of silence over the death of student Chow Tsz-lok

Video: SCMP/Chan Ho-him

— SCMP Hong Kong (@SCMPHongKong) November 8, 2019

At the parking garage where Chow died, hundreds of people lit candles, placed flowers, sang hymns and wept. Many did not even know him, but they told NPR about how their sense of him as “family” — as a “sibling” — link him to them.

Others across the semiautonomous region saw the young man’s death as a grim new item on their list of grievances against Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government. First prompted by an unpopular bill that would have allowed extradition of suspects from Hong Kong to China, the widespread protests have continued to roil the region despite the bill’s formal withdrawal last month.

Masked demonstrators attend a candlelight vigil to pay tribute to Chow Tsz-lok, a university student who fell during protests last weekend and died early Friday morning.

Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images

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Billy H.C. Kwok/Getty Images

Now, protesters are calling for Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to meet a much wider range of demands. These range from the particular — an independent probe into the police’s alleged use of excessive force — to the vast — an overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system to open it up to more voters.

Chow’s death is likely to fan those angers ahead of what is shaping up to be another tense weekend. Mourners on Friday, for instance, mingled their expressions of grief with anti-government chants, according to The Los Angeles Times: “Murder must be compensated with life! A debt in blood must be paid in blood!” and “Hongkongers, revenge!”

Authorities in Hong Kong, for their part, denied that police had a direct role in Chow’s death: “There are accusations that police officers chased after the man before his fall,” said Suzette Foo, a police superintendent in the district of Kowloon. “We must clarify that it is certainly false.”

Protesters say police directly contributed to Chow’s death, not only by tactics to roust protesters, but also by delaying first responders, who they say had to proceed to the scene on foot after police cars reportedly blocked the ambulance.

Last month, a police officer shot and seriously wounded a protester, while other deaths have been less directly linked with the months-long protest movement. In June, a demonstrator fell to his death while unfurling protest banners, while several young people involved in the protests have killed themselves.

“In recent weeks the Hong Kong authorities have granted themselves sweeping new powers to suppress protests, and invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to ban face coverings at public gatherings,” Man-Kei Tam, the director of Amnesty International Hong Kong, said in a statement Friday. “Tactics deployed by the Hong Kong police has been increasingly alarming, marked by an apparent thirst for retaliation.”

NPR’s Julie McCarthy contributed to this report.

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