A Hong Kong student who sustained head injuries when he fell during clashes with police died yesterday, triggering a fresh wave of outrage from the pro-democracy movement and fears of more violent unrest.
Although the precise chain of events leading to 22-year-old Alex Chow’s fall are unclear and disputed, his death is the first student fatality during five months of demonstrations.
Protesters, who have made alleged police brutality one of their movement’s rallying cries, responded to Chow’s death with tearful vigils last night and calls for fresh rallies over the weekend.
“Today we mourn the loss of a freedom fighter in Hong Kong,” Joshua Wong, a prominent pro-democracy campaigner, said on Twitter.
“The atmosphere in Hong Kong is like a ticking bomb,” added Lo Kin-hei, a local pro-democracy councillor and activist. “HKers don’t trust the police will give us the truth.”
Police have repeatedly denied any allegations of wrongdoing in relation to Chow’s death.
The lead officer in the case, Superintendent Ewing Wu, again insisted yesterday that police were not at fault.
“As for the allegations that police chased the deceased or that we pushed him and caused him to fall, the police hereby make a solemn statement again that nothing of the kind happened,” Wu told reporters.
Chow was taken to hospital early on Monday morning following clashes between police and protesters in the middle-class district of Tseung Kwan O.
He was certified dead by the hospital yesterday morning after failing to emerge from a coma.
Chow had been found lying unconscious in a pool of blood inside a multi-storey car park that police had fired tear gas towards.
Protesters had been hurling objects from the building, in the type of confrontation that has become routine in late-night rallies over recent months.
By yesterday evening, the car park had become a makeshift memorial with hundreds lining up to lay flowers, light candles and stick multi-coloured notes carrying messages on the wall.
“I think there should be an independent inquiry commission to investigate his death and other incidents happened during the movement,” a 23-year-old student, who gave her surname Ho and said she attended Chow’s university, told AFP.
Police have acknowledged that tear gas had been used Sunday night to disperse protesters near the car park where Chow fell.
Wu, the lead investigator, confirmed yesterday that police entered the car park twice to contain the protesters but said that officers were not inside when Chow fell.
Wu and a police spokeswoman also rejected accusations that officers delayed paramedics getting to the scene.
“At this stage, we are investigating the cause of Chow’s death instead of investigating police officers,” Wu said.
The Hong Kong government expressed “great sorrow and regret” yesterday over Chow passing away.
In Beijing, foreign affairs ministry Geng Shuang declined to comment directly when asked about Chow’s death.
Chow was a student at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.
The college held its graduation ceremony yesterday morning, and university head Wei Shyy paused the proceedings to announce Chow’s death.
After the ceremony was cut short, hundreds of students gathered to mourn Chow’s passing and condemn what they described as police brutality.
“Hindering rescuers is attempted murder!” Student chanted as they marched at the campus.
Shyy later released a statement to students backing calls for an independent inquiry.
“We will be outraged if there is no acceptable explanation offered to us,” he wrote.
Millions of people have taken to Hong Kong’s streets since June in the greatest challenge to China’s rule of the city since its handover from the British in 1997.
China governs Hong Kong under a special “one country, two systems” framework that is meant to give the city more freedoms and liberties than on the mainland.