2 men jailed for 19 years each for attack on Hong Kong journalist

One of two alleged assailants (centre) of an attack on Mr Kevin Lau in a picture taken on March 18, 2014.
One of two alleged assailants (centre) of an attack on Mr Kevin Lau in a picture taken on March 18, 2014. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - Two men were jailed for 19 years each on Friday for a brutal knife attack on a Hong Kong journalist in what the judge called a "cold-blooded" crime that intensified fears over press freedom in the city.

Mr Kevin Lau, former editor of the investigative Ming Pao newspaper, was stabbed in broad daylight in February last year.

The attack came just weeks after he was removed from his position and replaced with an editor deemed to be pro-Beijing.

His sacking triggered staff protests and widespread fears that Beijing was tightening control over the press in the semi-autonomous territory.

Yip Kim-wah and Wong Chi-wah, both 39, were last week convicted of causing grievous bodily harm, with the jury taking less than four hours to reach a unanimous verdict.

But questions remain over why they carried out the attack and who offered them an alleged payment of HK$100,000 (S$18,100).

Mr Lau has called for the "mastermind" of the crime to be brought to justice.

Judge Esther Toh sentenced Wong and Yip to 19 years each, describing the attack as "senseless" and "brazen".

"They carried out this cold-blooded attack for financial gain," she said, adding that neither defendant had shown any remorse.

"Life will never be the same for him (Lau) because he will forever carry the scars of the attack, both psychologically and physically," she added.

Judge Toh said that while there was no evidence Mr Lau was attacked because he was a journalist, "members of the press should be equally protected as are any of our citizens".

"We are very lucky in Hong Kong to have a free press," she added.

The pair had pleaded not guilty and accused police of beating them into making confessions.

Prosecutors said Yip had told police he had driven Wong to a street where Mr Lau usually ate after being offered the money, and that there was CCTV footage of the two near Mr Lau's home ahead of the attack.

But electrician Yip insisted he only went to the area to find a former boss who owed him wages.

Both men were detained in mainland China before being returned to Hong Kong in March last year.

During the trial, Mr Lau, who was stabbed six times, recalled how he was attacked with "a hard object" before a motorcycle carrying two men sped off.

He was left in a critical condition and continues to need physiotherapy three times a week.

Hong Kong was a British colony until it was handed back to China in 1997 and is ruled under a "one country, two systems" deal, which allows far greater civil liberties in the city.