Hong Kong protester falls and dies, marking first student death in unrest

Protesters hold a photo of Chow Tsz-Lok during a memorial flash mob to remember him in Hong Kong - APProtesters hold a photo of Chow Tsz-Lok during a memorial flash mob to remember him in Hong Kong - AP
Protesters hold a photo of Chow Tsz-Lok during a memorial flash mob to remember him in Hong Kong – AP

A university student in Hong Kong who fell during weekend protests has died, marking the first student death as fallout widens from anti-government demonstrations that have disrupted the city for months. 

Chow Tsz-lok, 22, a computer science student, passed away at 8am on Friday, said the city’s hospital authority.

The circumstances leading up to Mr Chow’s fall were unclear, though police say he was believed to have fallen from a parking deck while officers dispersed nearby protesters and fired tear gas.

Police are still investigating the case, and have refuted allegations that officers had been chasing Mr Chow when he fell. They say the deceased had been seen wandering alone in the car park.

Mr Chow’s death is likely to further enrage protesters – many of whom are high school and university students – leading the charge in the biggest political challenge to Xi Jinping, leader of the Chinese Communist Party, since he took the reins in 2012. 

It’s also set to trigger even more resentment against the police, who have been accused of using disproportionate force in handling protests. Activists have thrown petrol bombs and vandalised shop fronts and subway stations, while police respond with rubber bullets, tear gas, water cannon, and even live ammunition.

Five months of protests have strained Hong Kong. Businesses forced to shut during demonstrations are losing business, tourist visits are waning, and the political situation has polarised colleagues, friends and families in the city.

Graduates attend a ceremony to pay tribute to Mr Chow - Credit: REUTERS/Tyrone SiuGraduates attend a ceremony to pay tribute to Mr Chow - Credit: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
Graduates attend a ceremony to pay tribute to Mr Chow Credit: REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

Police have arrested more than 3,300 people, about one-third of whom are students. Some cases are now going to court in battles that could last years over charges of illegal assembly or rioting, the latter of which carries a maximum of ten years in prison. 

On Thursday, a 16-year-old was found guilty on two counts of possessing offensive weapons, the first conviction of a minor since the protests began.

The teenager was arrested when he was 15, for carrying a laser pointer and a modified umbrella containing a walking stick. 

Also on Thursday, Chen Zimou, 24, was sentenced to six weeks in prison for possession of an offensive weapon, the city’s first case involving a mainland Chinese person.

Mr Chen was first arrested in July for carrying an extendable baton, and denied participating in protests; prosecutors also didn’t find any evidence to identify him as a protester.

Police in riot gear stand over people detained during a protest in Hong Kong earlier this month - Credit: AP Photo/Kin Cheung, FilePolice in riot gear stand over people detained during a protest in Hong Kong earlier this month - Credit: AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File
Police in riot gear stand over people detained during a protest in Hong Kong earlier this month Credit: AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File

His lawyer said he carried the baton for self-defence as violence escalated in clashes between protesters and police, and after vigilante assaults began occurring as supporters from different sides began engaging in mob attacks. 

Protesters first sparked against a now-withdrawn extradition proposal that would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial. The extradition bill magnified concerns that Communist Party influence was eroding freedoms in Hong Kong. 

Hong Kong is governed under a “one country, two systems” model that guarantees the city liberties that aren’t allowed under authoritarian control in mainland China. But concerns have grown that the city’s unique way of life was disappearing after the former British colony was returned to Beijing rule in 1997.

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