HONG KONG - Hong Kong's last colonial governor Chris Patten on Saturday said a string of attacks on media workers was "profoundly serious", with fears over an erosion of press freedom intensifying in the city.
Two senior figures from the Hong Kong Morning News Media Group were attacked on Wednesday weeks after Kevin Lau, a former editor of the liberal Ming Pao newspaper, was critically wounded in another assault.
"What's happened has been profoundly serious," Patten said during an interview with AFP and Ming Pao, without drawing a link between the attacks and perceived erosion of press freedoms.
"It's not the first time that journalists have been attacked, it's happened in the past as well," Patten said, adding that Lau was a "distinguished crusading investigative editor and journalist".
Lau was hacked with a cleaver in broad daylight last month by two men who escaped on a stolen motorbike.
"(The attack) may have more to do with his courage and integrity as a journalist which would be deeply worrying," he said.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association expressed "serious concern" and the Foreign Correspondents' Club highlighted its increasing concern for media workers in the city.
"After the attack on Kevin Lau, who remains in hospital with grave injuries, this latest incident only underscores the deepening shadows being cast over the media landscape in Hong Kong from violence, intimidation and interference by political and commercial interests," the Foreign Correspondents' Club said in a statement.
As the former British colony's unpopular government grapples with how the city's future leaders will be chosen under long-awaited political reforms, Patten said Hong Kong citizens were mature and could make their own decisions.
"Hong Kong is an extremely moderate place, with well educated, thoughtful citizens, and I think they should be trusted to make decisions about their own future," said Patten, who got a hero's welcome from emotional fans waving Union Jack flags on Thursday.
The Union Jack and Hong Kong colonial flag have become unlikely symbols at frequent protests over the slow pace of progress towards full democracy and fears over erosion of the rule of law.
"There's always a danger (of losing these freedoms) if you don't stand up for them," Patten said.
Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 and has preserved its own government and legal system, with its residents enjoying rights and freedoms unknown on the Chinese mainland.
Patten, who is chancellor of the University of Oxford, was in the city to attend a university alumni weekend.