HONG KONG -- A 22-year-old Hong Kong student died Friday morning after falling from a multistory parking lot during a protest 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 people 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 accounts from those at the scene, riot police dispersed first-aid volunteers and blocked paramedic access, resulting in a delay of more than half an hour before Chow received treatment. Police denied those claims at a news briefing.
A recent survey conducted by the Chinese University of Hong Kong found that close to half 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 surveillance video.
"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.
Some vandalized Wei's residence and trashed several cafeterias as well as on-campus branches of Starbucks and the Bank of China -- businesses that have been labeled pro-Beijing and frequently targeted in recent protests. Wei later issued a statement demanding a thorough investigation into the circumstances of Chow's death.