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Press freedom in Hong Kong

Two men appealing conviction for 2014 knife attack on former Ming Pao editor say they were mistreated by mainland and Hong Kong authorities

  • Lawyers for Yip Kin-wah and Wong Chi-wah, who attacked Kevin Lau Chun-to with a meat cleaver, say ‘ill-treatment’ prevented a fair trial
  • Appeal judges say lawyers failed to identify the specific mistreatment
PUBLISHED : Thursday, 06 December, 2018, 7:14pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 December, 2018, 8:17pm

Two men jailed for the “cold-blooded” knife attack on a newspaper editor-in-chief four years ago argued during their appeal on Thursday that they were mistreated at the hands of the Hong Kong and mainland authorities, which had prevented them from having a fair trial.

Lawyers for Yip Kin-wah and Wong Chi-wah, both 42, said, however, the trial judge had failed to ruled in their favour to halt the prosecution at the time, which later led to their convictions in 2015 and sentencing to 19 years in jail.

But the lawyers’ assertion quickly prompted three appeal judges to hit back on Thursday, complaining of a lack of evidence to support those claims.

The attack took place on February 26, 2014, when the two slashed former Ming Pao editor-in-chief Kevin Lau Chun-to with a meat cleaver in broad daylight before fleeing to mainland China. They were arrested there and sent back to Hong Kong for trial.

Knifemen offered HK$100,000 each to attack former Ming Pao chief editor Kevin Lau, court hears

The panel of three judges took issue in particular with the lawyers’ failure to identify the specific mistreatments they said the two suffered when they were in the custody of mainland officers. They also questioned why the Hong Kong police would have a part to play in the conspiracy.

Barrister James McGowan, for Yip, said there was general ill-treatment of suspects across the border, and that the city’s police did make a trip to the mainland at the time of the men’s detention.

But Mr Justice Kevin Zervos pressed for specifics. “What is the conduct that is so abhorrent … that would shock the court’s conscience?” he said.

Martyn Richmond, Wong’s defence counsel, gave up those grounds of appeal against his client’s conviction, but he, together with McGowan, pleaded for a shorter sentence for both Wong and Yip.

Although the original trial judge Madam Justice Esther Toh Lye-ping did not link the attack to Lau’s job as a journalist, the case nevertheless shocked the city at the time as it was perceived to be a threat against press freedom.

While McGowan argued on Thursday that Yip had limited knowledge at the time on the attack who Lau was, Zervos disagreed. “They stalked him for two weeks,” he said, adding that they had also followed Lau to his place at work.

Kevin Lau Chun-to – a Hong Kong journalist at the centre of a storm

Deputy director of public prosecutions Martin Hui SC, who opposed the appeal, said Lau had suffered from permanent injuries after a major nerve on his left leg was severed. The 53-year-old could no longer walk like he used to, he said.

Zervos, Mr Justice Ian McWalter and Mr Justice Derek Pang Wai-cheong have reserved their judgment, to be handed down later on an unspecified date.

During the 2015 trial, the court heard that the pair were paid HK$100,000 to “teach Lau a lesson”.

The pair stole a motorcycle in February the year before, following Lau on several days.

On February 26, they moved in on Lau, who had been replaced as Ming Pao editor-in-chief the previous month, in Sai Wan Ho, as he parked his car. Wong was the one who slashed Lau while Yip rode the motorbike.

“They were cold-blooded, as they went shopping for shoes after the attack and they were smiling and relaxed when they left the shopping centre,” said Toh, the trial judge, when she sentenced them.