The former editor of a Hong Kong newspaper whose ouster triggered protests over media freedom was hacked with a cleaver yesterday in an attack that drew condemnation from the US and press groups.
Kevin Lau (劉進圖), former editor of the liberal Ming Pao newspaper, was hacked at in broad daylight by two men who escaped on a motorbike in the Chai Wan District where the newspaper’s headquarters is located, police said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (梁振英) described the attack as a “savage act” after visiting Lau in hospital where he underwent multiple operations.
The US consulate said it was “deeply concerned about... this vicious crime” and joined calls from media groups for the authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
The attack comes at a time of growing unease over freedom of the press in the territory, with mounting concerns that Beijing is seeking to tighten control over the territory.
Health officials said Lau underwent surgery for wounds including a 16cm-long gash that cut through his back muscles and was in a serious condition, but that his life was not in danger.
Lau, who was known for hard-hitting political investigations before being reassigned as chief editor last month, was confronted by two assailants when he got out of his car.
“One of them alighted from the motorcycle and used a chopper to attack the victim,” police spokesman Simon Kwan said.
Ming Pao said on its Web site that it was offering a reward of HK$1 million (US$129,000) for information leading to the capture of those responsible for the attack.
Plans to replace Lau with an editor from Malaysia seen as pro-Beijing prompted protests from staff who feared an attempt to stifle the paper’s investigative reporting.
Among Ming Pao’s reports have been a probe into the death of prominent Chinese dissident Li Wangyang (李旺陽), who was found hanged in a Chinese hospital room.
The official verdict was that Li had committed suicide, but supporters believe he was murdered.
The attack on Lau is the latest in a series against journalists in the territory.
In June last year there were multiple attacks against employees of Apple Daily, a popular tabloid critical of Beijing, and Chen Ping (陳平), a publisher of a magazine known for its outspoken coverage of mainland issues, was also beaten up.
“We strongly condemn violence and urge the police to take action,” Hong Kong Journalists Association chairman Sham Yee-lan (岑倚蘭) said.
Critics said Lau’s sidelining was politically motivated as the territory takes part in a debate about its future political system, almost 17 years after the handover from British rule, and as concerns mount that Beijing is seeking to tighten control.
Under a deal between London and Beijing, Hong Kong is guaranteed freedom of speech among other liberties that Chinese are denied.
Earlier this month two reports from international media watchdogs said self-censorship was becoming commonplace in Hong Kong, with the Committee to Protect Journalists saying that media freedom was “at a low point.”
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders also said Hong Kong’s media independence was “now in jeopardy” as China flexed its muscles to stifle critical coverage.