HONG KONG - Fears over press freedom in Hong Kong intensified after two media executives were beaten by masked men, with one newspaper Thursday describing a "siege atmosphere" in the city.
The attack on the senior figures from the Hong Kong Morning News Media Group on Wednesday came just weeks after veteran journalist Kevin Lau was hacked with a meat cleaver - he remains in hospital with serious injuries.
Both Wednesday's attack and the assault on Lau took place in broad daylight and have raised alarm that journalists in the city are in increasing danger.
The United States voiced concern following the latest incident saying it was "troubled" by the violence, while press groups condemned the fresh attack.
Two alleged hitmen in the Lau case appeared in court for the first time Thursday.
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 attack.
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 ($129,000) each to carry out the attack.
An editorial in The Standard newspaper on Thursday 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 State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
"Hong Kong's well-established tradition for respect for the rule of law and internationally recognised fundamental freedoms, including freedom of the press, remain crucial to Hong Kong's long-standing success and reputation as a leading centre of global commerce," she told reporters late Wednesday.