The death of a Hong Kong college student on Friday (Nov. 8) should have been a moment for the government and police to allow the city to mourn. Instead, the city woke up this morning (Nov. 11) to the shocking sight of a police officer shooting at protesters at close range.
As protesters in Sai Wan Ho, on the eastern part of Hong Kong Island, blocked traffic early this morning, a police officer grabbed one protester, and then shot at two others, according to video footage (warning: graphic). The cameraman who filmed the encounter told the New York Times that one of them, who was shot in the abdomen, appeared to be “semi-conscious.” He suffered injuries to his liver, and underwent emergency surgery in a local hospital, the Hong Kong Free Press reported. A media officer for the hospital told Quartz he was transferred to the Intensive Care Unit where he remains in critical condition.
At an afternoon press conference, a police spokesman said that the officer had tried to remove barricades from the road, which protesters had used to disrupt traffic. A group of about six protesters then approached the officer, at least one of whom appeared to be wielding a metal rod, the spokesman said. The officer at this point drew his revolver, but protesters continued to approach and the officer fired a single shot, hitting one protester in his right abdomen. The officer then fired another two shots as two other protesters tried to intervene. Those two shots did not hit anyone. Police have now arrested two people in relation to this incident, which is being investigated.
“At that time, the officer felt that his revolver would be snatched and the consequences disastrous,” said the police spokesman.
The shooting led protesters to gather in the city’s Central business district at lunchtime, where police fired multiple rounds of tear gas. Police also fired tear gas on one university campus. In the early evening some protesters continued to try to set up makeshift barricades on downtown roads. Major companies sent workers home early.
The city’s chief executive Carrie Lam, speaking this evening, condemned protesters and repeated her position that there would be no independent inquiry into police actions, a key protester demand. A study is underway by Hong Kong’s police watchdog, but independent advisers consulted by the government have said it doesn’t have the power to conduct a proper review.
Earlier on Monday, Hong Kongers also shared video online of another location where a police officer on a motorbike appeared to be deliberately driving at protesters this morning, knocking at least one of them down.
A disturbing video also circulated of an older man, who appeared to be arguing with protesters, being set on fire by someone, local news outlet RTHK reported. Police later confirmed a man had been set on fire and suffered severe injuries.
Police also disputed “online rumors” that they had been ordered to use more force today.
Earlier, on Oct. 1, an 18-year-old protester survived a shooting at close range by a police officer after internal guidance appears to relax the conditions under which an officer could use lethal force.
Protesters had called for a general strike today as part of efforts to mark the death of 22-year-old Chow Tze-Lok, who died from injuries from an apparent fall from a floor of a parking garage where riot police had been trying to disperse protesters nearby. Hong Kongers also marked the student’s death with vigils over the weekend, and are calling upon one another to revenge his death.
In response to speculation that Chow, a computer science student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, was running from tear gas, police have denied they were near him or used tear gas heavily in the area where he fell. Police also denied accusations that they blocked an ambulance trying to reach Chow, blaming street traffic instead for the delay.
The weekend also saw the arrest of multiple pro-democracy lawmakers for scuffles that broke out in May over the now-withdrawn anti-extradition bill that sparked this summer’s unrest.
The timing of the arrests for scuffles that occurred more than six months ago has sparked fresh speculation that police are trying to provoke protester violence that could lead to the cancellation of local elections planned for Nov. 24. In a 6,000-word piece, a Beijing official over the weekend blamed the ongoing unrest on the city’s failure to pass a strict national security law.
Mary Hui contributed reporting.