Updated, 2:58 a.m. E.D.T.| The former chief editor of a Hong Kong newspaper whose dismissal in January stirred protests about press freedom in the Chinese territory was slashed Wednesday morning, the police said.
Kevin Lau Chun-to, the former chief editor of Ming Pao, was slashed three times by an attacker who fled with an accomplice on a motorbike, said Simon Kwan King-pan, the chief inspector of the Hong Kong police. The attack happened shortly after 10 a.m. as Mr. Lau was walking from his car in the Sai Wan Ho neighborhood. Mr. Lau was listed in critical condition at a local hospital with a wound in his back and two in his legs, and doctors said he faced a long recovery.
Mr. Lau’s ouster led to noisy protests by journalists and others who feared that his departure reflected the Chinese Communist Party’s efforts to subdue the independent media in the semi-autonomous territory.
Under Mr. Lau, Ming Pao investigated the death of a mainland dissident who many suspect was murdered despite his death being ruled a suicide. It recently took part in an investigation by the Washington-based International Consortium of Investigative Journalists published in January that showed the relatives of several senior Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping and former Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, owned stakes in companies registered with offshore tax havens including the British Virgin Islands.
Francis Moriarty, the head of the press freedom committee of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong, called the attack “shocking” and noted that it came after several less serious attacks on journalists in Hong Kong and just three days after a protest over concerns about press freedom in the territory. In one notable incident last year, assailants crashed a car into the home of Jimmy Lai, a media mogul critical of Beijing who founded Next Media, and they left a machete and ax in his driveway.
“This is a serious escalation,” Mr. Moriarty said of Wednesday’s attack.
“We urge the Hong Kong police to treat the incident with the utmost urgency, and to find and prosecute the culprits,” the club said later in a statement. “The growing number of attacks against members of the press in Hong Kong needs to be taken seriously by the local administration. Hong Kong’s reputation as a free and international city will suffer if such crimes go unsolved and unpunished.”
Others called the attack disturbing no matter what the motive turns out to be.
“It doesn’t matter what the motives are, it’s just not acceptable,’’ said Yuen Chan, a lecturer in journalism at The Chinese University of Hong Kong, adding that she didn’t have any information on why Mr. Lau was attacked. “There have been incidents where media people have been attacked, it’s not the first one — it’s very, very disturbing.’’
The police said they had no suspects in the attack but they were reviewing footage from security cameras at the scene. Several other recent attacks involving journalists have gone unsolved.
In Sunday’s demonstration, at least 1,600 people turned out to support press freedom in Hong Kong, with organizers citing such concerns as the recent dismissal of a popular radio host and claims by local media outlets that they are losing advertising from mainland Chinese businesses because of their editorial positions.
The attack on Mr. Lau comes as Hong Kong-mainland Chinese tensions have been building amid increasing fears over the mainland’s widening political and cultural influence over the former British colony.
Starting in June, a series of large demonstrations are planned in Hong Kong, including one to mark the 25th anniversary of the crackdown on the Tiananmen protests in Beijing and others to press demands for universal suffrage in electing the territory’s leaders. Such organized protests are banned in mainland China.
Mr. Lau was visited in the hospital by Leung Chun-ying, Hong Kong’s chief executive, who is considered pro-Beijing and who often came under scrutiny by Ming Pao when Mr. Lau was its editor. At a news conference after the visit, Mr. Leung recalled his association with the editor and condemned “this savage act.”
Michael Forsythe and Alan Wong contributed reporting.