A 22-year-old Hong Kong student died on Friday morning after falling from a multistory parking lot during a protest on Sunday night. It may be the first confirmed death directly linked to police action in Hong Kong’s five months of escalating political unrest.

Spontaneous demonstrations mourning the man’s death and condemning police erupted throughout the city, with hundreds chanting: “Murder must be compensated with life! A debt in blood must be paid in blood!” and “Hong Kongers, revenge!”

Alex Chow Tsz-lok, an undergraduate student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, reportedly plummeted from the third floor as he attempted to escape tear gas that police had fired into the building. But key circumstances surrounding his fall remain unknown.

“Did the police pursue him and lead to his fall? Was he thrown off the car park purposely? Did the police obstruct the rescue operation to save Chow?” asked pro-democracy lawmaker Ray Chan, echoing many Hong Kongers’ misgivings.

Sunday’s protest began with protesters heckling police who were guarding a colleague’s wedding ceremony in a suburban shopping area. As riot police arrived to clear the area, some retreated to the parking lot and threw objects at police from the upper levels. Police responded by firing tear gas at the parking lot.

According to various eyewitness accounts, riot police dispersed volunteer first-aiders and blocked paramedic access, resulting in a delay of over half an hour before Chow received treatment. Police denied those claims at a press briefing earlier this week.

According to a recent survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong, close to half of the city’s residents have zero trust in their police force, contributing to an atmosphere in which rumors thrive and official pronouncements are rarely believed unless backed by eyewitnesses and CCTV evidence.

“Hong Kong people’s sadness is beyond words,” Chan said. He predicted that “people will be more resolute in their call for an independent investigation and resort to all available means to demand full accountability,” further escalating protests in the coming days and weeks.

News of Chow’s death came during the university’s annual graduation ceremony Friday morning. University president Wei Shyy canceled ceremonies scheduled for the afternoon and visited the hospital where Chow had been in critical condition since Sunday. Students staged a moment of silence followed by a march while calling on Wei to denounce the actions of the police.

Hong Kong police have faced widespread criticism for excessive use of tear gas since protests began in June in response to a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be tried by courts in mainland China.

A photo of Alex Chow Tsz-lok is displayed at a makeshift memorial for him in Hong Kong.

(AFP via Getty Images)

Since then, police have fired close to 6,000 tear gas canisters in the densely-packed streets of Hong Kong, affecting millions of the city’s residents. Anger at this police response has sparked a demand for an independent investigation and has helped transform what started as single-issue marches into a wide-ranging anti-government movement.

Several young protesters have died as a result of suicide this summer, leaving notes behind about despair over their failure to win concessions from the government. Unverified rumors have also swirled for months surrounding extrajudicial killings of protesters and subsequent cover-ups by police.

In June, activist Marco Leung Ling-kit fell to his death after hanging an anti-extradition bill banner from the rooftop of a downtown shopping mall. Chow’s death, however, is the first directly linked to a clearance operation by riot police.

A candlelight vigil for Chow is planned for the site of his fatal fall Thursday evening.

Ho Kilpatrick is a special correspondent.


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