Flowers and tears for 'first martyr' of Hong Kong protests

Unknown activist died after unfurling banner near government headquarters

Many among the vast crowds that marched through Hong Kong on Sunday carried white flowers tributes to an anonymous man who had fallen to his death the previous evening after unfurling a large protest banner on scaffolding near government headquarters.

No one knew the man’s name, or why he was there, even though protesters and an opposition politician spent hours trying to persuade him to come down with hymns and exhortations.

But hours after his death, the man already had a title. The mourning crowds called the 35-year-old their movement’s first martyr, and wanted to remember him as they took on the government in one of the biggest marches ever seen in the city.

A call to bring flowers spread quickly on social media, there were condolence books along the route of the march, and at least two makeshift shrines near its end.

Peter Chan, 68, had stopped at one, bowing his head before a photograph of the man, flanked by Chinese scrolls praising his passion and his sense of justice. Incense and traditional paper offerings to the dead burned beside rows of floral tributes.

“He has become the first martyr, and we don’t want more,” said Chan, weeping as he attacked Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam, and the campaign to pass a controversial extradition law which has plunged Hong Kong into crisis.

“If it wasn’t for one person’s insistence to pass this law, this wouldn’t have happened,” he said. “If Lam doesn’t step down our anger cannot die down.”

The man had climbed on to scaffolding outside the Pacific Place mall on Saturday afternoon, wearing a yellow raincoat, and unfurled his handwritten protest banner.

“Make Love. No Shoot! No extradition to China,” it said in English. Chinese characters called for the law to be withdrawn, and Lam to resign.

Many details about his final hours are still unclear; police are treating the case as suicide, the Hong Kong Free Press reported. But for protesters who gathered on Sunday, his banner provided a clear, devastating link to the turmoil of the past week.

“I am heartbroken about the guy who died. When I learned about it I was speechless,” said protester Troy Law, 29, who carried chrysanthemums, a traditional flower of mourning in China. “Although we don’t know exactly what happened, it is clear what his position was.”


Guardian reporter and Emma Graham-Harrison in Hong Kong

The GuardianTramp

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