HONG KONG (Reuters) – Two men who attacked a former chief editor of a widely respected Hong Kong newspaper with a meat cleaver were jailed on Friday for 19 years in a case that has raised concerns about press freedom in the Chinese-run city.
Yip Kim-wah and Wong Chi-wah, both 39 years old, showed no emotion as the sentence was handed down for “grievous bodily harm with intent” in the stabbing of former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau on Feb. 26 last year in broad daylight.
Speaking to the court, Justice Esther Toh said the assault was carried out “in cold blood … for financial gain”, and that it was a “brazen attack on the rule of law in Hong Kong.”
Lau last week urged the police to continue investigating so that the “mastermind” behind the attack could be brought to justice, with the motives for the crime still unclear.
The two men told police they had each been paid HK$100,000 ($12,900) to attack Lau but refused to say who paid them.
The attack on Lau was cited as the most violent example of how press freedom in Hong Kong has deteriorated, according to a recent report by the Hong Kong Journalists Association.
The stabbing came in the months before last year’s mass pro-democracy protests, and was widely seen as a warning to Hong Kong’s vibrant media that has remained a bastion of critical reporting on China.
Toh said Hong Kong was “very lucky” to have a free press, comparing the media to a “beacon of light” and adding that journalists should be protected by the law.
The defendants said police had forced them to confess. Yip said to the jury that several Chinese officers had told him the case was politically important to Beijing, and that they needed someone to admit to it as soon as possible.
Senior police officers denied the accusations, media reports said. There was no immediate response from China’s Ministry of Public Security to a faxed request from Reuters seeking comment.
The two men were also sentenced to a concurrent 12-month jail term for the theft of a motorcycle used in the attack.
Hong Kong, a former British colony, reverted to Chinese rule in 1997 amid promises by Beijing to allow considerable autonomy and broad freedom of speech.
(Reporting by Adelaide Hui and Emma Ng; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Ryan Woo)