HONG KONG (Reuters) - A Hong Kong court on Thursday found two men guilty of attacking a former chief editor of a major Hong Kong newspaper with a meat cleaver in a case that raised concerns about press freedom in the Chinese-run city.
Yip Kim-wah and Wong Chi-wah were convicted of causing “grievous bodily harm with intent” in the stabbing of former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau on Feb. 26, 2014, in broad daylight.
The men were also found guilty of stealing a motorcycle that was used to make their escape.
Lau welcomed the unanimous verdict by a seven-person jury. But he also urged the police to continue investigating so that the “mastermind” can be brought to justice.
The attack 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, a far cry from mainland China where newspapers are subject to heavy censorship and state control.
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.
The defendants testified that they had been forced by police to confess. Yip told the jury that several Chinese officers had told him that the case was politically important to Beijing and that they needed someone to admit to it as soon as possible.
Wong said Hong Kong police had also assaulted him and coached him on his confession.
“I was told if I didn’t follow the instructions I would be taken back to (China),” Wong told the court, adding he’d been hit and kicked by the officers.
Senior police officers denied the accusations, according to the official China Daily.
Ming Pao is a widely respected newspaper, though the appointment of a Malaysian editor with suspected pro-Beijing leanings has stoked recent controversy.
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.
“I hope and I urge the police to make all efforts to continue the investigation until they find out the mastermind behind the crime,” a calm-looking Lau told reporters. He declined to speculate on who might have orchestrated the attack.
Sentencing is due on Friday next week. Lawyers for the defendants said they may appeal.
Reporting by Adelaide Hui and Clare Baldwin; Additional reporting by Ever Tang and Viola Zhou; Editing by Nick Macfie and James Pomfret