Recent attacks on media workers in Hong Kong were "profoundly serious", Chris Patten said yesterday, amid fears of a growing erosion of press freedom in the city.
Two senior figures from the Hong Kong Morning News Media Group were attacked on Wednesday, weeks after Kevin Lau Chun-to, former chief editor of Ming Pao, was critically wounded in another assault.
"What's happened has been profoundly serious," Patten, Hong Kong's last governor, said in an interview, without drawing a link between the attacks and the perceived erosion of press freedoms.
"It's not the first time that journalists have been attacked - it's happened in the past as well," Patten said, adding that Lau was a "distinguished crusading investigative editor and journalist". Lau was hacked with a cleaver in broad daylight in Sai Wan Ho on February 26 last month by two men who escaped on a stolen motorbike.
"[The attack] may have more to do with his courage and integrity as a journalist, which would be deeply worrying," Patten said.
The Hong Kong Morning News Media Group's director, Lei Iun-han, 46, and news controller Lam Kin-ming, 54, were assaulted by three masked men with metal bars in Tsim Sha Tsui on Wednesday.
Lei suffered injuries to her face and knees, while Lam's right elbow was injured. Their assailants fled in a car driven by a fourth man. Two suspected triad members have been arrested.
As the administration of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying grapples with how the city's future leaders will be chosen under long-awaited political reforms, Patten said Hong Kong people were mature and could make their own decisions.
"Hong Kong is an extremely moderate place, with well educated, thoughtful citizens, and I think they should be trusted to make decisions about their own future," said Patten, who got a hero's welcome from a crowd waving Union flags on Thursday.
The Union and Hong Kong colonial flags have become unlikely symbols at protests over the slow pace of progress towards full democracy and fears over erosion of the rule of law.
"There's always a danger [of losing these freedoms] if you don't stand up for them," Patten said.
Patten, who is chancellor of the University of Oxford, was in the city to attend a university alumni weekend.