HONG KONG (AP) — The former editor of a Hong Kong newspaper whose abrupt dismissal in January sparked protests over press freedom is in critical condition after being hacked Wednesday by an assailant with a meat cleaver, police said.
Police said a man wearing a motorcycle helmet attacked Kevin Lau in a residential neighborhood and then fled on a motorcycle driven by another man.
Lau was hospitalized in critical condition with slashes in his back and legs, said Kwan King-pan, acting superintendent of Hong Kong Police.
Police did not announce any motive for the attack and appealed to the public for information.
Lau, 49, was named editor of the respected Ming Pao newspaper in 2012 but was replaced last month by a Malaysian journalist with no local experience. Lau was transferred to the parent company's electronic publishing unit. The move raised fears among journalists that the newspaper's owners were moving to curb aggressive reporting on human rights and corruption in China.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said it was shocked and angered by the attack, calling it a "serious provocation to Hong Kong press freedom." Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying visited Lau at the hospital and told reporters, "We strongly condemn this savage act."
The Committee to Protect Journalists called for a thorough investigation.
"The violence against Kevin Lau Chun-to is one of the most serious attacks on a Hong Kong journalist that CPJ has documented in years," Bob Dietz, the group's Asia program coordinator, said in a statement from New York. "Hong Kong's investigation and prosecution of this crime must demonstrate that the territory will not tolerate violent intimidation tactics against the media."
Freedom of speech and the press is a growing concern in the semiautonomous Chinese city, where such rights are guaranteed by its mini-constitution. On Sunday, thousands of people took to the streets to protest Lau's dismissal and other recent cases, including the ouster of an outspoken radio host and reports that Beijing-backed businesses were pulling ads from some newspapers over editorial stances.
Hong Kong slipped three places to 61st place on the latest World Press Freedom Index compiled by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which said Beijing's growing influence is jeopardizing media independence. Hong Kong ranked 18th on the group's inaugural index In 2002.