Former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to faces a two-year fight to recover from injuries sustained in last week's chopping attack, friends said yesterday.
The news emerged on the day a Malaysian journalist brought in to fill a senior role after Lau was moved out of the Chinese-language daily's newsroom started his new job to a flood of questions from staff.
Lau was ambushed in Sai Wan Ho on Wednesday, in an attack that left him with severe cuts to his legs and vital organs exposed. The assault, coming soon after his controversial removal, prompted international concern and a march for press freedom that brought thousands onto the streets on Sunday.
"The crucial nerves in his legs were seriously damaged from knee to toe. Lau told me that it may take more than two years for him to fully recover," said Cheung Man-kwong, a former lawmaker who has known Lau for more than 20 years. "But he is very tough."
Lau was in "good, fighting spirits", said Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, dean of law at the University of Hong Kong, but would take a "long time" to recover. Chan said the attack on Lau, whom he once taught, was an attack on press freedom.
The head of another media group dismissed any political connection.
Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, chairman of the Sing Tao News Corporation, said Lau would know deep down why he was attacked. Ho said Lau may have written articles that had offended someone, and the attack was meant as a warning.
"Anyone who thinks it is related to politics is an idiot," said Ho, who is in Beijing for the annual session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, of which he is a Standing Committee member.
Police said yesterday that they believed the attacker and his motorcyclist accomplice were of Chinese ethnicity, but had no further description. A police source said investigators were examining whether the rider, who abandoned the bike and took a taxi to Kowloon Tong, then took a cross-border bus. Another source said police would take a statement from Lau this week.
Meanwhile, Chong Tien Siong yesterday started work as principal executive editor at Ming Pao, a day after speaking out for press freedom.
Chong's appointment, which came after Lau was moved to Ming Pao's sister educational publishing company, led to concerns about editorial independence - and Chong found himself surrounded on arrival by more than 50 editorial staff.
The Ming Pao staff concern group said Chong "evaded" its request to clarify whether he supported the vindication of democracy campaigners killed in 1989's Tiananmen Square crackdown, or answer questions about whether he would make Ming Pao a pro-government paper.
Chong had been expected to replace Lau. But after an outcry, editorial director Cheung Kin-bor was named editor.