Fears over press freedom in Hong Kong intensified after two media executives were beaten by masked men, with one newspaper yesterday describing a “siege atmosphere” in the territory.
The attack on the senior figures from the Hong Kong Morning News Media Group on Wednesday came just weeks after veteran journalist Kevin Lau (劉進圖) was hacked with a meat cleaver — he remains hospitalized with serious injuries.
Wednesday’s attack and the assault on Lau took place in broad daylight and have raised alarm that journalists in the territory are in increasing danger.
The US voiced concern following the latest incident, saying it was “troubled” by the violence, while press groups condemned the fresh attack. Two alleged hit men in the Lau case appeared in court for the first time yesterday.
Yip Kim-wah and Wong Chi-wah, who work as plumbers and are both 37, remained calm and expressionless as charges of malicious wounding with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm were read. The pair were also charged with the theft of a motorcycle, which was believed to be used to flee from the scene of the incident.
They spoke only to say that they had understood the charges and did not enter a plea.
Local media, citing mainland authorities, have said the suspects were part of the Shui Fong triad criminal gang and were paid HK$1 million (US$128,800) each to carry out the attack.
An editorial in yesterday’s Standard newspaper ran with the headline “New attack brings siege atmosphere” and called for neutrality while police investigate.
“While the details of the most recent attack are not completely clear, we are troubled by a series of incidents over the past year that seem to target Hong Kong media figures,” US Department of State spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
“Hong Kong’s well-established tradition for respect for the rule of law and internationally recognized fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press, remain crucial to Hong Kong’s long-standing success and reputation as a leading center of global commerce,” she told reporters late on Wednesday.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association expressed “serious concern” and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club highlighted its increasing concern for media workers in the city.
“After the attack on Kevin Lau, who remains hospitalized with grave injuries, this latest incident only underscores the deepening shadows being cast over the media landscape in Hong Kong from violence, intimidation and interference by political and commercial interests,” the Foreign Correspondents’ Club said in a statement.
Lei Lun-han (利婉嫻), the Hong Kong Morning News Group’s vice president, and Lam Kin-ming (林健明), its news controller, were reportedly set upon by four men with iron bars in Hong Kong’s busy commercial district of Tsim Sha Tsui.
The two, left with minor injuries from the attack, have since been released from the hospital, a police spokeswoman said yesterday.
The Chinese-language Hong Kong Morning News is due to launch later this year and issued a statement that the launch would go ahead as planned, despite the assault on its staff, local media reported.
The newspaper said in a statement last month that all of its funds would be raised “locally” — implying that the mainland would not be involved — and that the staff of the newspaper would “work hard to speak for the people of Hong Kong.”