Hong Kong protests: coroner to hold inquest in open court into death of student who fell from car park at around time of police clearance operation

Kimmy Chung

The Coroner’s Court will look into the first fatality from injuries sustained during a police operation in Hong Kong’s ongoing protest crisis in an open hearing, the force said on Friday, as calls mounted for a swift investigation to find the truth behind university student Chow Tsz-lok’s death.

Chow, a second-year computer science undergraduate at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, suffered a severe brain injury after he fell from a car park early on Monday near an area of confrontation between protesters and police. He died on Friday morning.

Queen Elizabeth Hospital confirmed the 22-year-old died at 8.09am and said it had referred the case to the Coroner’s Court.

Police said they would also recommend a coroner’s inquest.

“All information about this death will be heard in open court,” Kowloon East Senior Superintendent Foo Yat-ting said at a police briefing in the afternoon.

Asked if police had responsibility for Chow’s death, Superintendent Ewing Wu Ka-yan said: “That is one of the main purposes of an investigation into his death. We will definitely launch a thorough and in-depth investigation … and pass it to the coroner to decide.”

Police on Friday admitted that officers entered the car park for the first time at 11.06pm on Sunday, and not at around 1.05am on Monday, as they had said earlier.

But Wu said the first group of officers left the car park at 11.20pm and there were no police in the venue between the time Chow entered and when he was found injured.

Security camera footage showed Chow leaving his Tseung Kwan O home alone at 11.54pm on Sunday.

He was then seen walking into the car park alone at 12.26am on Monday, and left at 1am via a footbridge heading towards the Beverly Garden housing estate. But one minute later, he was seen entering the car park again.

Chow was last seen at 1.02am, when he walked alone from a ramp on the second floor of the car park to the third floor. At 1.05am, police entered the car park for the second time for a dispersal operation while a passer-by told firefighters that Chow had fallen from a height.

“Clips showed that between 12.26am and 12.49am, Chow was alone and wandering about at normal speed. He used a mobile phone but did not have physical contact with anyone,” Wu said, adding that no undercover officers were deployed in the district that night.

Night of violence and grief in Hong Kong as city mourns student’s death

Police appealed to the public to “stay calm and rational”, saying they were aware there had been online calls for people to stage unauthorised protests over Chow’s death.

Hong Kong has been gripped by five months of protests sparked by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Link Reit released footage from cameras inside the car park. Photo: Link

The campaign has morphed into a wider anti-government movement with the level of violence in skirmishes between protesters and police escalating.

Sunday’s clash in Tseung Kwan O, which extended into the small hours of the following day, was sparked by a group of people trying to disrupt a police officer’s wedding held in a hotel in the district. It was unclear whether Chow was in the group, why he was in the car park and what exactly caused him to fall.

Human rights groups urged the Coroner’s Court to open an inquest as soon as possible.

“Given the lack of mutual trust between police and the public, the coroner should proactively investigate, and take additional measures to ensure the credibility of the investigation,” Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor said.

The student fell from the third floor to the second floor of the car park. Photo: RTHK

The opposition Civic Party wrote to Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, urging her “as the guardian of the rule of law in Hong Kong” to call for the coroner to investigate Chow’s death.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal lecturer of the law faculty at the University of Hong Kong, said the Coroner’s Court could ask police to disclose more information, and seek independent witnesses and experts during an investigation.

“The coroner has rather broad powers and the family of the deceased can raise their questions in the process,” he said. “From past experience, the coroner will draw a range of suggestions on how to avoid a recurrence of similar incidents.”

He said it was not necessary to set up a commission of inquiry over Chow’s case, on top of the Coroner’s Court, but agreed a broader inquiry on irregular deaths over the recent months could address public concerns.

Hundreds launch protest marches to work in support of dead student

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun renewed calls for Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to set up a commission of inquiry.

The Sheung Tak Estate car park in Tseung Kwan O. Photo: Dickson Lee

“Hong Kong is in a very dangerous situation at the moment, with public sentiment going to explode,” he said, urging the government to quickly explain how it would investigate the incident fairly before it became too late.

On Friday night, Link Reit, which owns the Sheung Tak car park from which Chow fell, released more CCTV footage, following the 10 clips on Wednesday.

The footage did not show how Chow fell, as the cameras rotated during their operation. The view was also partly blocked by parked vehicles.

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