Fresh assault as two charged with attacking Hong Kong journalist

Fresh assault as two charged with attacking Hong Kong journalist
A suspect, seen walking next to a dummy of former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau, is taken away by the police after the reconstruction of a crime scene at Sai Wan Ho in Hong Kong

HONG KONG - Two Hong Kong media workers were attacked on Wednesday by four masked men armed with metal bars, shortly before police charged two alleged hitmen with a brutal February attack on a veteran journalist.

The victims of the Wednesday attack were senior figures of Hong Kong Morning News, a Chinese-language daily which plans to launch later in the year, media reported.

The fresh assault sparked renewed concern for press freedom in the city following the savage attack on ex-editor Kevin Lau last month.

Police reported the latest incident without identifying the victims.

"I suspect the attack has something to do with the work they have put into this newspaper. Does someone not want this paper to come out?" pro-democracy lawmaker James To told reporters.

Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said police would investigate Wednesday's assault "to the best of their ability".

Hacked with cleaver

Lau, a former editor of the liberal Ming Pao newspaper, was hacked with a cleaver in broad daylight last month by two men who escaped on a stolen motorbike.

"Police today charged two men, both aged 37, jointly with one count of wounding and one count of theft," a police statement said Wednesday.

The alleged hitmen in Lau's case travelled to mainland China after the attack and were arrested there. They were brought back to the southern semi-autonomous Chinese city Monday.

Local media, citing mainland authorities, said the suspects were part of the Shui Fong triad criminal gang and were paid HK$1 million ($129,000) each to carry out the attack.

The pair, restrained by chains and wearing black masks, were brought back to the scene of the crime Tuesday to help police reconstruct events.

One of the alleged assailants re-enacted it with a fake knife and a dummy, showing that he had attacked Lau's legs first before injuring his back.

Lau remains in hospital after the assault on February 26, in which he was struck six times on the back and legs with a cleaver, leaving wounds including a 16-centimetre-long (six-inch) gash.

He is currently unable to walk because of nerve damage.

The attack came just weeks after Lau was removed from the top job at Ming Pao and replaced with an editor widely seen as pro-Beijing.

His removal triggered protests over the state of media freedom in Hong Kong, with concern mounting that Beijing is seeking to tighten control over the city.

Police last week arrested nine other suspects in Hong Kong in connection with Lau's case, all of whom are on bail.

Security secretary Lai told the city's legislature Tuesday that police did not exclude any motive for the attack on Lau, including a connection to his journalistic work.

The city's police chief earlier came in for criticism by saying there was no evidence the attack was linked to Lau's work.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under an agreement with Britain that grants it semi-autonomous status and enshrines civil liberties not seen in mainland China.

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