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Protesters in Hong Kong are killing themselves in a disturbing turn to their high-profile struggle against China

Business Insider | Jul 5, 2019, 09.32PM IST

hong kong protest death

Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Anti-extradition bill protesters gather for a moment of silence to pay tribute to a 21-year-old woman who apparently died by suicide on June 30, 2019.

A 28-year-old woman in died on Wednesday after apparently jumping to her death in the Cheung Sha Wan area of Hong Kong.

It is the latest in a spate of recent suicides in which victims specifically mention the territory's struggle against the Chinese state.

The woman, identified only by her last name Mak, is the fourth protester to die by apparent suicide in the weeks since protests erupted in the city, which has partial autonomy from mainland China.

suicide note hong kong protest

Supplied

Items, including a suicide note, left behind by a Hong Kong protester before her death.

They were triggered by the government's proposal to allow China to extradite Hong Kongers to the mainland for criminal trial.

Protest against that bill acted as a lightning rod for broader unease about attempts by China to exert more control over Hong Kong, which became part of China again in 1997 after more than 150 years as a British colony.

Mak was found near her apartment in Cheung Sha Wan, a source close to the woman told Business Insider.

Before her death she left on her bed a collection of protest paraphernalia, including goggles and a handwritten letter calling for a "revolution" in Hong Kong.

In the note, shared with Business Insider with permission from her family, Mak detailed her frustrations with the government in Hong Kong and her fears for the future of the city.

"A government that is not elected by the people do not respond to their demands," the note read. "What Hong Kong needs is a revolution."

Mak described a sense of helplessness and despair throughout the note.

She finished her note with "add oil," a term popular in Hong Kong English used to express support.

The term has been frequently used to encourage protests against a bill that was being debated last month which would have allowed the extradition of Hong Kong residents to mainland China to face trial.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam suspended debate on the bill on June 15. However, demonstrators continue to turn up in large numbers, saying that their demands are not yet satisfied.

In a letter written by a close friend of Mak, seen by Business Insider, the friend wrote of her passion for social justice, and said her family chose to make the letter public to convey her wishes. They said they want to discourage others from copying her.

Mak's death follows those of several other protesters by apparent suicide in the last several weeks.

A 35-year-old man died on June 15 after falling from scaffolding in a shopping center in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong after unfurling a banner which denounced the extradition bill.

Police were treating the man's death as a suicide, the Hong Kong Free Press reported.

On Sunday, a 21-year-old student fell to her to her death in Fanling, another area of the city, after reportedly leaving a handwritten message on the staircase of the building at the scene.

"I hope to exchange my life to fulfill the wishes of 2 million," her message read. "Please keep on persisting."

Less than 24 hours later, a 29-year-old woman fell from a bridge near Hong Kong station. In a note posted to her Facebook page, the woman encouraged protesters to continue turning up, and said she had grown "tired" of fighting for the city's future.

According to The Los Angeles Times, at least one of the last remaining protesters who stormed the city's legislature on Monday evening had prepared a will.

Several suicide hotlines have seen an increase in the number of calls in the last month as protests continue to bring the city to a standstill, according to the South China Morning Post (SCMP).

Samaritan Befrienders, a suicide prevention group in Hong Kong, said it had received 42 calls since June 9. The Hong Kong Red Cross said it received 99 calls to its support network since June 12, SCMP said.

"This is a public mental health situation," Clarence Tsang, chief executive of Samaritan Befrienders told SCMP.

Concerns grow over glorifying protester deaths

hong kong memorial

Geovien So/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Anti extradition bill protesters places white flowers to pay tribute to the 21-year-old female who committed suicide to protest against the government's policy on the extradition bill.

Lawmakers and experts have warned against glorifying protesters who have died, and expressed concerns about how protests could affect the mental health of Hong Kongers.

Opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo said in a press conference on Tuesday that protesters need to "drop the martyr mentality" and remain positive.

"Some are quite willing, they say, to die for this democracy fight," she said. "But we need to remind them it's not worth it."

Paul Yip, director of the Center for Suicide Research and Prevention at the University of Hong Kong, told SCMP that protests against the extradition bill have brought up feelings of uncertainty and hopelessness within society, which may encourage people to take drastic action.

"I have never seen Hong Kongers so unsettled and troubled by the feeling that nothing is under control," he said.

"The whole society has fallen into hysteria due to volcanic eruption of the deep-seated identity crisis triggered by the bill."

Yip told SCMP that lawmakers should reach out to young protesters and "take actions to improve the situation."

If you or someone you know is struggling with depression or has had thoughts of harming themselves or taking their own life, get help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (1-800-273-8255) provides 24/7, free, confidential support for people in distress, as well as best practices for professionals and resources to aid in prevention and crisis situations.

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