Former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to’s condition has stabilised after surgery and he can write to communicate, his wife Vivian Chan Pik-kwan said this morning.
Lau remains in the intensive care unit of Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital in Chai Wan after suffering a knife attack on his back and legs on the Sai Wan Ho waterfront on Wednesday.
“I visited Ah To again at 7am. His face is less pale, and he is responsive to questions. The wounds are stable after the surgery, no more massive bleeding. He can write with his fingers to express himself. Thanks to all our friends for praying for Ah To,” said Chan in a text message.
Lau, a former chief editor of the Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao, was ambushed at about 10.30am after leaving his car near a restaurant he frequents for breakfast. He suffered multiple cut wounds and one was so deep it exposed his chest cavity and vital organs.
Watch: Hong Kong ex-editor in press freedom row critical after attack
James To Kun-sun, a Democratic Party lawmaker who visited Lau in hospital this morning said that Lau was confident of recovery and showed him an “okay” gesture.
"I feel better, at least he looked at me and gave me this sign," To said. "We’ve been friends for 40 years so I trust that he would not deliberately mislead me, that’s why I feel relieved."
FTU lawmaker Chan Yuen-han also visited Lau at the hospital. She said Lau and his family were resilient and that she could lip read as Lau said "thank you" to her.
Police officers have visited the ward and communicated with Lau but have not yet taken a formal statement due to his inability to talk, said senior inspector Wong Sau-kwan of Hong Kong Island Regional Crime Unit.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who visited Lau in hospital yesterday afternoon, said he too had been informed of Lau’s progress this morning. However, Chan had asked most of Lau’s government friends not to visit him at the hospital for the time being as he need more rest, said Leung.
Instead, the family received bouquets throughout the morning from, among others, the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, all lawmakers of the Federation of Trade Unions, vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong professor Tsui Lap-chee, and the Department of Journalism of the Baptist University of Hong Kong.
Freedom from fear
Hundreds of Ming Pao employees dressed in black to condemn the violent attack, while the newspaper also changed its masthead colours from the usual red to a solemn black.
"We dress in black today to fight for press freedom, speech freedom and freedom from fear," said Ming Pao staff concern group member Sin Wan-kei.
"We are heartbroken. We want to know if Hong Kong is still a safe city."
Sin said many staff were distraught and some even expressed fear when motorbikes drove by.
But she added: "No matter how big a challenge, Ming Pao employees will not retreat ... We will continue to stand our ground."
At the scene of the stabbing, dozens of police officers combed for witnesses and clues. At least 20 policemen, including a team from the organised crime bureau, arrived at Tai Hong Street in Sai Wan Ho’s Lei King Wan to search for possible witnesses. None have been found so far.
On Thursday night, police released an image of a taxi taken by a person carrying a bag and a helmet at Sai Wan Ho Street, near Tai Ning Street, at about 10.30am on the morning of the attack. The vehicle was heading towards Kornhill.
"The headquarters has mobilised all available resources from different departments to carry out today’s operation," said senior inspector Cheng Yam-ho.
Last night officers found a motorcycle which they believe was used by the attackers.
Police sources have described the attack as a “classic” triad hit, and say it was meant as a warning, rather than an attempt to kill Lau.
Lau’s recent removal as chief editor of Ming Pao as part of an editorial power struggle reignited concerns over press freedom.
Speculation has grown that the attack was connected to Lau’s work in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ), including Ming Pao’s recent articles about the business affairs of senior mainland figures.
The ICIJ said today it was not aware of any evidence linking the attack to their partnership in reporting sensitive business affairs of mainland figures.
Concern and anxiety
However, it added such speculation “does reflect the real concern and anxiety felt by many in the Hong Kong press corps over continuing threats to press freedom”.
“There is simply no justification for such an attack and it should provoke outrage in all fair-minded citizens. We were proud to work with such a brave newspaper editor on such an important reporting project.”
The consortium said it was horrified to learn of the “brutal” attack. “Our thoughts and prayers are with Kevin and his family, and we remain hopeful that local police will apprehend the perpetrators as soon as possible.”
The European Union issued a statement saying the EU Heads of Mission accredited to Hong Kong had been shocked by the attack.
“We welcome the condemnation of the attack by Hon. C.Y. Leung, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong SAR, who said that Hong Kong was a law-abiding territory which would not tolerate such violence,” it read. “We would like to extend to Mr Lau and his family our sympathy and support and wish him a speedy recovery.”
The EU’s statement came a day after US consul general in Hong Kong Clifford Hart issued a statement expressing concern about the assault.
Back at the scene of the attack, a staff member at the Eastern Coast restaurant said Lau had been a regular face.
"He’s a frequent customer here but he didn’t come every day," she said. "I didn’t see anything as 10am is breakfast time and is a very busy time for us."
Another Sai Wan Ho resident said he was fishing by the seafront on Wednesday morning when he suddenly saw a swarm of police officers show up.
"I had heard that someone had tripped and fallen while getting into his car," he said. "But then I saw a lot of blood and I knew something was not right."
Police also returned to Sai Wan Ho Street, where the attackers had parked their motorbike, to search for clues, witnesses and CCTV footage. Last night the police released a grainy CCTV photo of the two suspects before the attack.
A signed petition to rally support for press freedom will begin on Friday while a demonstration, organised by the Hong Kong Journalists Association, will be staged on Sunday.
FTU lawmaker Chan Yuen-han said she would support the petition, but she could not join the march as it conflicted with a CPPCC meeting in Beijing on the same day.