Two men charged with attacking Hong Kong journalist denied bail

HONG KONG (AFP) - Two men charged with a savage knife attack on the former editor of a Hong Kong newspaper were denied bail on Friday as fears for press freedom in the city intensify.

Mr Kevin Lau, former editor of the investigative Ming Pao newspaper, was left in a critical condition after the brutal street attack in broad daylight by two men in February, who then escaped on a motorbike. The attack came just weeks after Mr Lau was removed from his position at the helm of Ming Pao and replaced with an editor deemed to be pro-Beijing.

Yip Kim-wah and Wong Chi-wah, who applied for bail on Friday, were charged with malicious wounding with the intent to cause grievous bodily harm and theft of a motorbike by the court in March.

Their applications for bail were refused because of the "serious nature of the offence and the risk of absconding", magistrate David Chum said.

"I have not pleaded guilty and there were no eyewitnesses," Yip responded, after the prosecution lawyer objected to his bail application. Wong made no objection.

Neither has so far entered a plea.

The pair were arrested in the neighbouring Chinese province of Guangdong and sent back to Hong Kong in March. The case was adjourned on Friday until August 1 to allow the defendants to seek legal representation.

Mr Lau's sacking from Ming Pao triggered protests over media freedom as Beijing is accused of tightening control over the media in the semi-autonomous territory.

Two other Hong Kong media executives were attacked by four masked men armed with metal bars the month after the assault on Mr Lau.

Hong Kong is preparing for a pro-democracy protest march on Tuesday, which activists predict will be the largest since the handover from Britain to China in 1997 as tensions over mainland influence rise. The annual rally comes after nearly 750,000 people voted in an unofficial democracy poll in the city amid concern that China will backtrack on its promise to allow Hong Kong voters to choose their next leader.

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