A former newspaper editor whose abrupt dismissal in January sparked protests over press freedom in Hong Kong was stabbed near his office Wednesday morning, according to police.
Kevin Lau, former editor of the Ming Pao newspaper, is in critical condition, according to a government spokesman. The attack came days after a Sunday rally drew thousands who demanded that Hong Kong's leaders uphold media freedoms.
A man wearing a motorcycle helmet and wielding a knife attacked Lau, police said. The assault took place about 10:20 a.m. in the Chai Wan district where the newspaper's headquarters is located.
After stabbing Lau, the attacker fled on a motorcycle driven by another man, police said.
Top Hong Kong officials condemned the attack. Hong Kong's chief executive C.Y. Leung issued a statement Wednesday, saying he was "indignant" and "outraged" at the attack and Carrie Lam, the territory's chief secretary told reporters that she was "shocked and saddened" by the assault.
"Hong Kong is a city with rule of law. All of society should condemn violence," she said. Lau was conscious when he was taken to hospital.
Hong Kong Journalists Association vice-chairman Shirley Yam said she felt "terrified."
"No journalist should be subject to violence," she told CNN. "I have known Kevin for 30 years and I cannot think of any reason why anyone would try to kill him."
Police said they are investigating but did not say why he was attacked, according to the Associated Press.
Lau was named editor of the respected Ming Pao newspaper in 2012 but was replaced by an editor with pro-Beijing leanings in January and reassigned. The move drew criticism from staff members at a paper known for investigative journalism and analysis. Staff and others expressed fears that the Ming Pao's owners were moving away from aggressive reporting on human rights and corruption in China.
Some suspected that sidelining Lau was politically motivated as the city undergoes a key debate over the future of a political system that was subject to numerous investigations under his leadership.
In recent years, Hong Kong journalist and rights groups have warned of mainland Chinese propaganda officials influencing local newsrooms, deepening ties between Hong Kong media bosses and Beijing, greater censorship, and the dismissal of influential liberal journalists.
Tensions have been rising between forces backing democratic institutions in Hong Kong and China's Communist Party leaders, as the city proceeds with political reforms that could lead to an unprecedented direct election for its next leader in 2017.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, is a freewheeling capitalist hub that enjoys a high degree of autonomy and freedom, but Beijing's Communist Party leaders have resisted public pressure for full democracy.
Beijing has agreed in principle to allow the city to hold direct elections in 2017, but no specific rules have yet been set on whether open nominations for candidates will be allowed.
The media's concerns reflect in part what some see as Beijing's attempts to tighten control over Hong Kong amid its fears a pro-democracy candidate may win the 2017 election.
French-based Reporters Without Borders ranked Hong Kong 61st worldwide in press freedom in 2014 — down from its 18th place ranking in 2002, when the survey was first conducted.
Al Jazeera and wire services