HONG KONG – The death of a Hong Kong student Friday following a police operation unleashed a wave of anger and heralded a new phase in five months of confrontations between authorities and demonstrators calling for democracy in the semiautonomous Chinese territory.
Thousands assembled for spontaneous vigils throughout the city, and by nightfall the gatherings had devolved into confrontations with police, with protesters building road blockades, hurling bricks and starting fires.
Police used tear gas to disperse protesters in multiple neighborhoods.
At least seven pro-democracy lawmakers were reportedly arrested or summoned for “arrest by appointment,” according to local media. The development set an ominous tone for district elections at the end of the month — contests from which prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong has already been barred.
Chow Tsz-Lok, a computer science student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, had been in a coma since early Monday, when he fell one story in a parking garage in the Tseung Kwan O neighborhood while police officers were dispersing protesters nearby. The 22-year-old died shortly after 8 a.m. Friday, hospital officials said.
Chow’s death could be the first directly connected to a police confrontation with protesters, but the details of what exactly happened in the lead-up to the fall are not clear.
The fatality quickly ignited the city’s pro-democracy movement. By Friday afternoon, crowds of black-clad people gathered across the city to commemorate Chow’s death. Marchers bearing white flowers brandished signs denouncing the police and calling for revenge. Traffic came to a standstill as demonstrators occupied roads in central Hong Kong, chanting “Five demands, not one less!” — a motto of the protest movement.
Several more vigils and memorials were held throughout the city on Friday night. Hundreds of mourners, some carrying origami cranes, lined up to pay tribute to Chow at the parking garage where he fell to his death. Crowds chanted, “Free Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!”
Some protesters have alleged that Chow was fleeing from police when he fell, and they accused officers of obstructing medical responders who were trying to reach him. Police have denied interfering in the emergency response.
“We all are very angry, devastated and frustrated,” said Percy, a 20-year-old medical student who volunteers as a first-aid responder and who declined to give his full name, for fear of retribution from authorities.
Hong Kong’s protests erupted in June over a now-withdrawn bill to allow extraditions to mainland China, but they have morphed into a broader uprising against Chinese government encroachment into the city’s affairs.
Public anger has grown as Hong Kong authorities, encouraged by Chinese officials and state media, have deployed increasingly forceful tactics to try to quell the anti-government unrest. At the same time, front-line protesters have adopted more violent tactics. Some have vandalized businesses, including mainland banks and Hong Kong’s subway operator, that protesters view as supporting the Chinese government.