Kevin Lau, a Hong Kong journalist who became the center of a major controversy a month ago when he was fired from his post as editor-in-chief of the newspaper Ming Pao, was stabbed Wednesday morning by anonymous attackers on a motorcycle.
Lau was walking to his car. One attacker stabbed him multiple times, then jumped on the back of a motorcycle being driven by an accomplice. Lau managed to call police himself on his cell phone before passing out. He is currently in critical condition.
Police sources told The South China Morning Post that the attack seemed to be “designed to maim, not kill, to send a warning.”
Under Lau’s leadership, Ming Pao had become known for its critical reporting on the Chinese government, including an investigation in the alleged suicide of a Chinese dissident who many suspect was actually murdered and reporting on senior Chinese officials owning stakes in companies registered in offshore tax havens.
His removal led to protests among the paper’s staff, who accused the government of undermining press freedoms. Some of Lau’s colleagues are now saying that this attack is an attempt to frighten and undermine journalists.
On Sunday, 6,000 journalists marched to Hong Kong’s government headquarters in protest of perceived encroachments on press freedom from the mainland.
Hong Kong has traditionally enjoyed greater press freedoms than Mainland Chinese publications, but the Hong Kong Journalists Association reported last year that recently Beijing’s Liaison Office has been growing more intrusive. Essentially, although Hong Kong as a territory has independent courts that generally uphold press freedoms, China’s National People’s Congress has the final say in interpretations of laws dealing with freedom of expression.
Although violence against journalists has been relatively rare, they’re not unheard of. In 2012, there were several troubling incidents, including one where four masked men broke into the offices of a citizen journalism website called In-Media and destroyed their computers. Not long after, men with axes attacked the offices of another media outlet, Sing Tao. Last year, knife-wielding men threatened workers and burned thousands of copies of another critical newspaper, The Apple Daily.
Since 2002, the organization Reporters Without Borders, which ranks countries based on their respect for press freedoms, has downgraded Hong Kong from 18th in the world to 61st.
Some believe that Beijing’s perceived crackdown on reporting in Hong Kong is a result of the pro-democracy activism that has taken root in the territory. After much debate, Beijing agreed to allow the city to hold direct elections for its leaders in 2017, although it is still not clear whether open nominations for candidates will be allowed. Some pro-democracy activists have threatened to barricade the city’s financial and business center this summer if opposition candidates are not allowed to run.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, C.Y. Leung, issued a statement saying he was “outraged” by the attack.