Hong Kong anti-government demonstrations escalate after death of Christian student protester

Hong Kong
Protesters react as a truck driver clears the barricades on the road in Wong Tai Sin district on November 11, 2019, in Hong Kong, China. Anti-government protesters organized a general strike on Monday as demonstrations in Hong Kong stretched into its sixth month with demands for an independent inquiry into police brutality, the retraction of the word "riot" to describe the rallies, and genuine universal suffrage. |

Protests have escalated in Hong Kong after a Christian student died from injuries he sustained after falling from a parking garage where police officers clashed with protesters last week amid violent anti-government demonstrations.

“Protesters in Hong Kong have added to their arsenal javelins and bows and arrows, in addition to bricks and petrol bombs as they clash with police armed with tear gas, water cannon, and live bullets, in violent standoffs now spilling into university campuses,” The U.K. Telegraph reports. Police said some protesters have “shot arrows dipped in gasoline and lit on fire,” and have even used “electric saws” to target their officers.

On Wednesday, police used a boat to evacuate students from mainland China who were studying at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which is now barricaded by protesters and has been the scene of violent clashes.   

Last week, 22-year-old Chow Tsz-lok, a second-year computer science undergraduate at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, died from his injuries after he fell from the third floor to the second floor of a car park in Tseung Kwan O on Nov. 4 while police carried out a dispersal operation nearby with rounds of tear gas fire, The South China Morning Post reports.

Hong Kong
A woman pays her respect to 22-year-old student Alex Chow who fell during a recent protest on November 10, 2019, in Hong Kong, China. |

In response to his death, "demonstrators trashed a campus branch of Starbucks and vandalized the porch of the chancellor as pressure built on the university to condemn police accused of chasing the student before he fell to his death," The U.K. Telegraph reported.

Doctors performed two operations at Queen Elizabeth Hospital to stop the swelling in his head. However, Chow succumbed to cardiac arrest and died on Nov. 8.

Friends described Chow as a Christian who was known in his social circle for his passion for sports and mathematics, as well as his willingness to help others in school. Numerous vigils were held across the city in honor of Chow, with a moment of silence to commemorate the late student.

Chow was participating in anti-government demonstrations triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill. The proposed bill was precipitated by the murder of a pregnant teenager by her boyfriend during a vacation in Taiwan. Because the Hong Kong government does not have an extradition treaty with Taiwan, legislation was proposed that would have allowed the extradition of suspects from the city to other countries, including mainland China.

Now, the protests also include calls for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability in Hong Kong.

Thousands of people, including police officers, have been injured since the protests began in June. This week, Hong Kong police shot a pro-democracy protester, and a man doused another man in liquid and set him on fire. 

On Wednesday, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu told the Legislative Council that 3,001 people had been arrested in connection with the protests as of Oct. 31, among those 165 were younger than 16 years old, up from 36 on Sept. 11, according to figures obtained by the South China Morning Post.

However, no one had been killed in the clashes up until now. Chow’s death sparked further outrage and rioting among demonstrators, who claimed his death was the direct result of the confrontations between the police and protesters. 

Hong Kong
A train car burns at a MTR station during a demonstration at Chinese University of Hong Kong on November 13, 2019, in Hong Kong, China. |

"The police tell the public that Chow’s death is by accident. But I won’t believe in it," said Jenny Chou, 22, a college freshman who was among the hundreds of people holding vigil at the site where he fell.

"I hope he will move on to a better place and Hong Kongers will continue to fight for what we deserve," Chou added.

As violence and unrest continues to escalate, Christians — who make up 11 percent of the population — have been actively engaging with the social movement. In June, the hymn "Sing Hallelujah" to the Lord rang out as an unofficial protest anthem.

According to a report from the Hong Kong Free Press, volunteers from Protect the Children, headed by pastor Roy Chan, have in recent days stood between the police and protesters, shielding young front-line demonstrators with their bodies.

Other churches in the area have opened their doors to offer shelter on demonstration days.

Poon Yuk Kuen, pastor of Chinese Methodist Church, told the Hong Kong Free Press that a number of citizens came to the church for refuge during police clearance actions from previous protests. “Some people have told us when they come in here they feel peace, even people who are not Christian.”

Poon added, “We welcome all kinds of different people, not just march participants … when there are clashes and tear gas and they need to come in here for shelter.” 

“No matter what kind of person you are, we welcome you, because this is to fulfill our faith. We are willing to love everyone with the love of Jesus Christ.”

In Washington, D.C., the Trump administration said it's watching the situation in Hong Kong with "grave concern."

"We condemn violence on all sides, extend our sympathies to victims of violence regardless of their political inclinations, and call for all parties — police and protesters — to exercise restraint," State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said in a statement. 

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