Thousands gather for vigil in central Hong Kong to mourn death of student Chow Tsz-lok then disperse peacefully

SCMP Reporters

Thousands of Hongkongers flooded Tamar Park on Saturday night for a peaceful vigil to mourn the death of a university student who fell from a car park floor in unexplained circumstances near a police dispersal operation.

As dusk fell, the crowd, mostly wearing face masks and black outfits, poured onto the site carrying white and yellow chrysanthemums and lilies which they placed by the hundreds in front of a small stage. Many laid colourful paper cranes as others gave out black ribbons.

Compared with the rash of violent protests across several districts on Friday evening, which led to the firing of tear gas and a live round, Saturday’s turnout at Tamar and an impromptu gathering of mourners at Tseung Kwan O were sombre and subdued.

The Admiralty event was the first public rally to mark the death of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology student Chow Tsz-lok for which police had given approval.

At Tseung Kwan O, inside the car park where Chow was reported to have fallen four metres to the second floor last weekend, a stream of strangers and friends showed up to pay their respects before a shrine of flowers and lit candles, which expanded as the evening wore on. Many hung paper cranes over the balcony of the car park and pasted condolence messages on the walls.

Chow, 22, a second-year computer science undergraduate, suffered a severe brain injury from the fall in the early hours of Monday and died from cardiac arrest at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Friday. He was the first person to die after injuries sustained during a police operation in the city’s five months of social unrest.

A shrine to Chow Tsz-lok at the Tseung Kwan O car park where he sustained the injuries which eventually led to his death. Photo: Edmond So

At Tamar, participants offered prayers for Chow and others whom protesters claimed had also lost their lives during the course of the movement, which on Saturday marked its five-month anniversary. On June 9, an estimated 1 million people took to the streets in opposition to the now-withdrawn extradition bill. At least seven suicides have been alleged to be partly related to the protests, which have since morphed into an anti-government movement pressing for investigations into excessive force by police and more democracy.

Pastor Roy Chan Hoi-hing said Chow had been baptised, going on to cite verses from the Bible, including how “death is not the end, it’s a beginning”. But when he mentioned the other deaths in recent months, attendees interrupted him, shouting in Cantonese: “Take revenge!”

Chan responded, saying: “Hongkongers will not forget.” He later reminded the crowd not to be blinded by hate.

At 8.09pm, they had a minute of silence. Chow, who never regained consciousness after his fall, died at 8.09am on Friday.

Apart from Pastor Chan, other speakers at the rally included those who called on attendees to vote early at the coming district council elections to have their voices heard, and others who said the police had to be investigated for their alleged role in Chow’s death.

CCTV footage of the car park around the time of Chow’s fall examined thus far has not shown what he was doing there or how he fell. Earlier on Sunday night, protesters had turned up in Tseung Kwan O to attack a policeman’s wedding at a hotel. They later threw bricks at police from the roof of the car park. Police fired tear gas but said that was some time before he fell, so Chow was not fleeing from it.

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But many blamed the police for causing Chow’s death and, at Saturday’s vigil, moments of anger flashed through the crowd.

Retiree Ken Wong, 60, insisted that an independent inquiry into Chow’s death was critical, as well as an inquest, because people no longer trusted the police. “The Coroner’s Court relies on police’s investigations, so it is police investigating themselves, which is meaningless,” he said.

“Every passing of a youngster saddens us, the silver-haired generation, because they have beautiful futures, and every one of them is worth cherishing.”

Co Lau, 35, a marketing industry worker, who brought white flowers for Chow, said he was paying tribute to a young life lost. The demands of the protesters still had to be fought for, he said, adding: “I hope to walk the rest of the journey for him.”

Mourners on Saturday at the Tseung Kwan O car park. Photo: Edmond So

Activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, the only aspiring candidate barred from standing in this month’s district council elections, also spoke at the rally, calling on protesters to unite and fight on. “We will prevail and celebrate for the Hong Kong that we truly belong to one day,” he said.

Later, the thousands present lit up their phones, turning the park into a sea of light. As the rally ended, organiser Ventus Lau Wing-hong estimated 100,000 people had attended. Police estimated the crowd size at 7,500.

Lau urged rally-goers to go on a general strike on Monday.

Police kept a low profile throughout the rally but later, dozens of protesters gathered near the government headquarters and began shouting profanities at riot officers stationed behind the barriers. Nearby, about a hundred protesters gathered on Lung Wo Road outside the Chief Executive’s Office and pointed laser beams at the nearby People’s Liberation Army building. The confrontation ended without clashes.

The vigil at Tamar Park on Saturday evening. Photo: Winson Wong

Earlier, pro-democracy lawmakers and their supporters had shown up at police headquarters in Wan Chai to be arrested. Three of them were taken in for their alleged role in interfering with other lawmakers attending a Legislative Council meeting on May 11 this year, following the arrests of another three overnight on Friday.

In the afternoon, a group of masked protesters held a press conference to demand an independent inquiry into Chow’s death. They said police should not be investigating the case, as they were the focus of the investigation.

The briefing was also attended by a young masked protester who said Chow was a friend he had known for two years. He said Chow had been at every protest since June. “We friends were doing what we could on the streets. We were dissatisfied with the tyranny of this government,” he said.

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For the first time, a group of pro-establishment activists organised a press conference to condemn protesters’ violent acts, styling their event after the “citizens’ press conferences” held by the anti-government camp.

Saturday evening’s calm was marred by a large fire outside the government offices in Tuen Mun. Spray-painted on a nearby wall were the words: “Take revenge.”

Around 50 people were still gathering in Argyle Street in Mong Kok late at night. Riot control officers boarded vehicles and left the area after midnight.

Reporting by Sum Lok-kei, Kanis Leung, Danny Lee, Kimmy Chung, Christy Leung and Victor Ting

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