HONG KONG: Taking a Meat Cleaver to Press Freedom

LAUREN CHEN WRITES — This is difficult to believe, but here it is: Recently, in broad daylight, two men attacked former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to with a meat-cleaver and fled the scene.

The attackers remain unidentified and, at this writing, Lau was recovering and in critical condition.

Leading up to the incident, Lau had been ousted as top dog at at Hong Kong’s independent newspaper Ming Pao.  He’d been replaced by a Chinese Communist Party supporter, a move seen by industry watchers as a serious threat to the paper’s editorial independence. The insulting move sparked protests and anger among journalists in Hong Kong and abroad.

In response to the cleaver assault, media groups began a protest campaign and are calling for justice, urging residents to fight back against violent threats to press freedom. Ming Pao offered  a reward of HK$1 million for information leading to the arrest of the attackers.

An increase in intimidation tactics against journalists — of which the Lau attack is only the most bloody — threatens press freedom in Hong Kong.  Bob Dietz, Asia program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, described the assault as “one the most serious attacks on a Hong Kong journalist that CPJ has documented in years.” The Standard called the attack the “darkest day for journalism.”

The incident has made many news headlines and gained worldwide attention. Asia’s richest man, Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, condemned the attack and warned that Hong Kong would incur serious losses if it were to lose press freedom. Rumors that Beijing was ultimately behind the attack has sparked more tension between Hong Kong and mainland China.

Only proper investigation and prosecution of the crime can demonstrate that Hong Kong will not tolerate savage acts against media freedom. But one fear is that the assault may never be solved. Many perpetrators of similar attacks on journalists have not been brought to justice. A Ming Pao staff member urged police to not announce the investigation in a high-profile way and then leave the case unsolved like in previous attacks.”  Unresolved violence of this kind creates a unsettling atmosphere and is a depressing warning of dwindling media independence.

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