HONG KONG – A jury on Saturday returned an open verdict in the death of university student Chow Tsz-lok, 22, who died in hospital after he was found seriously injured in a car park near a protest site in the early hours of November 4, 2019.
Following almost two days of deliberation, the five-member jury told the Coroner’s Court that they were unable to determine the causes and circumstances of Chow’s death.
Chow Tak-ming, the student’s father, told media that he and his wife had tried their best to find out the truth but it had yet been found out. He respected the verdict and thanked the jurors for their hard work. He said he hoped the truth would be unveiled in the rest of his life, no matter that his son died in accident or was murdered.
“The jurors took the case very seriously and have worked so hard. I want to tell Tsz-lok that we’ve tried our best to find out the truth, even though many questions remain unanswered and we are still some distance away from being able to get to the very bottom of what happened,” he said, teary-eyed.
The inquest into the death of the University of Science and Technology student lasted for almost four weeks, with nearly 50 witnesses summoned. Chow’s death was among the two most controversial cases during the extradition protests in 2019.
The other victim was 15-year-old girl Chan Yin-lam, whose naked body was found floating in Yau Tong in September of the same year. Police said Chan committed suicide but the Coroner’s Court jury returned an inconclusive verdict on Chan’s death.
Last year, people mourned for the death of both Chow and Chan outside the Sheung Tak car park, where Chow fell, in Tseung Kwan O on the 8th of every month. On November 8 last year, a memorial activity was held there with hundreds of police being deployed.
The area where Chow fell was sealed off for “renovation” at the time. Meanwhile, almost all other protests in Hong Kong were banned for public health and national security reasons.
On November 3, 2019, an anti-government protest broke out at a crossroads near the car park. While the standoffs between the police and protesters continued until the early hours of November 4, Chow was seen in close-circuit television footage walking around the car park. He then fell from the third to the second floor of the car park and died of head injuries four days later.
The cause of his fall remained a mystery as no security camera was set up in the area of that corner. The nearest camera was coincidentally spinning away during the most important eight seconds of the incident.
During a court hearing on December 4 last year, coroner David Ko said he had found a “very important” CCTV footage that he believed captured the moment when the university student apparently fell from a high height in the car park. The footage, which was taken by a CCTV camera outside the carpark, showed a black shadow believed to be Chow falling onto the ground in the car park.
A expert witness said Chow could have been unconscious before the fall. Another said he could have fallen while trying to escape police tear gas or while running away from riot officers.
However, Ko said there was no evidence that Chow had taken part in the protest that night, or had been affected by tear gas fired by police more than 130 meters away from the fall. He added that security footage at the car park showed Chow acting alone, and there was no sign that officers had come into contact with him.
Ko had instructed the jury to return one of three verdicts, saying they could either rule that it was an unlawful killing; an accident; or give an open verdict which means there’s not enough evidence to draw a conclusion. He said an unlawful killing was only possible if someone had hit Chow on the head and thrown him a storey down the car park.
Ko said jurors shouldn’t just take the opinions of expert witnesses to be the truth about what happened, as their testimony could have been limited by the findings of a police investigation.
On Saturday evening, the jury returned an open verdict as they didn’t know why Chow fell and could not draw a conclusion on what had happened.
The Coroner’s court suggested the car park to set up more CCTV cameras to reduce blind spots and some bars on the third floor to avoid people from falling or jumping down. According to an inspection by Asia Times, several new CCTV cameras have been set up there since.