NPR Story
3:13 pm
Thu February 27, 2014

Hong Kong Journalist Recovering After Brutal Attack

The former editor of a Hong Kong newspaper who was brutally attacked yesterday is now in stable condition.

Police are investigating the stabbing of Kevin Lau Chun-to and have recovered a stolen motorcycle they suspect was used by one of the attackers. The newspaper Ming Pao, where Lau worked, has offered a $128,000 reward for information leading to the attack.

Francis Moriarty of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club, Hong Kong, joins Here & Now’s Jeremy Hobson to discuss the case and media freedom in the semi-autonomous territory.

Interview Highlights: Francis Moriarty

On who may have carried out the attack on Lau

“It’s very difficult to say who did this. The people who carry this out, the actual people who do the assault, they’re hired people. The police have already said what everyone already knew, that this is a classic hit done by triads. Triads are underworld gangs, and they can be hired by anyone for any reason if you know how to do that sort of thing. So who’s behind it, we don’t know. And to be honest, I’m not sure that it does anybody any good to guess.”

On the special role of Hong Kong reporters in covering China

“This tiny little sliver of China has a very special status. Because of its former colonial position and the basic law, its mini-constitution, which governs it and promises that people here will have certain freedoms, and among them are freedom of expression and freedom of the press. So reporters here have a somewhat privileged position relative to other reporters in China. If they get in trouble in China, they can usually come back to Hong Kong. They can report a little more freely inside China. If they get tossed out, they simply get tossed out and that’s the end of it, whereas if you are a mainland reporter and you are in trouble, then you are in serious trouble, because you have nowhere else you can flee to, no one else who will protect you and stand up for you. So Hong Kong reporters have had a very special position, and a lot of information comes out of Hong Kong still. It has even since the days of the Cultural Revolution. This has been a place where you get news about China you don’t get elsewhere.”

On struggles and dangers for Hong Kong journalists

“We do have to fight, and that’s why three days before Kevin Lau was brutally attacked, there was a march in Hong Kong where more than 6,000 journalists concerned about press freedom marched through the streets to show their concern that the oxygen is slowly being sucked out of the room. And beyond that sense of pressure, there have been many cases of journalists who have been, in the course of their work, manhandled by protesters or anti-protesters, who’ve been thrown to the ground, who’ve had their equipment broken, who’ve been trying to take pictures and thrown to the ground and kicked by individuals. And in many cases, no prosecution has followed. This is something that really disturbs people.”

Guest

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Transcript

JEREMY HOBSON, HOST:

This is HERE AND NOW.

And today the staff of Ming Pao newspaper in Hong Kong dressed in black to condemn that violent attack on their former editor, Kevin Lau Chun-to. He was stabbed yesterday by attackers who are still at large. He's said to be in stable condition today. The reason this case has attracted international attention is because Lau had been involved in investigation into the business affairs of senior Chinese officials.

We're joined by Francis Moriarty. He's the political reporter for Radio Television Hong Kong, and also the convener for press freedom for the Foreign Correspondents Club of Hong Kong. Welcome.

FRANCIS MORIARTY: Thank you.

HOBSON: Well, what more can you tell us, first of all, about Mr. Lau's condition?

MORIARTY: Mr. Lau is in critical condition. He has some good news from his doctors who say that he will improve over time. He is able to go in and out of consciousness. He's able to respond to people. The good news is that it appears that he will survive. The bad news, of course, is that having gone through something like this, he may be physically maimed. We have to see what happens with the injuries, particularly to his legs. And, of course, psychologically this is a shocking thing for a person to go through.

HOBSON: Who do you think did this?

MORIARTY: It's very difficult to say who did this. The people who carry this out, the actual people who do the assault, they're hired people. The police have already said what everybody already knew, which is that this is a classic hit done by triads. Triads are underworld gangs, and they can be hired by anybody for any reason if you know how to do that sort of thing. So who's behind it, we don't know. And to be honest, I'm not sure that it does anybody any good to guess.

There's no question that this man is a high-profile journalist. There's no question that he's a man of probity and decency. I've known him for more than 20 years. He's just a smart, principled, tough journalist and an extremely peace-loving and friendly fellow. If you're going to pick a person least likely to be abused in this way, you would pick Kevin Lau.

HOBSON: Well - and whatever ends up being found out about who did this and why they did it, this is just the latest attack on a journalist in Hong Kong. And of course, Mr. Lau was involved in this big report on where relatives of Chinese leaders were keeping their money offshore. Can you tell us about the role of journalists in Hong Kong in reporting on China? How important is it to have these journalists who are - they're kind of in China but they're in the special administrative region, but they're able to report on it in a way that certainly journalists in the United States wouldn't be able to do.

MORIARTY: This tiny little sliver of China has a very special status, because of its former colonial position and the basic law, its mini-constitution, which governs it and promises that people here will have certain freedoms, and among them are freedom of expression and freedom of the press. So reporters here have a somewhat privileged position relative to other reporters in China. If they get in trouble in China, they can usually come back to Hong Kong. They can report a little more freely inside China. If they get tossed out, they simply get tossed out, and that's the end of it. Whereas if you're a mainland reporter and you are in trouble, then you are in serious trouble, because you have no place else you can flee to. No one else who'll protect you and stand up for you.

So Hong Kong reporters have had a very special position, and a lot of information about China comes out of Hong Kong still. It has even since the days back of the Cultural Revolution. This has been a place where you get news about China you don't get elsewhere. And now with the visa problems that overseas journalists have had inside China, you have a number of very highly talented and skilled veteran reporters who are now in Hong Kong and in Taiwan reporting simply because they can't get visas into China. So yet another way that Hong Kong has a very special position and one that we fight very hard to preserve

HOBSON: Well, are you worried that you're losing that fight, that the Chinese are starting to crack down on the press freedom in Hong Kong?

MORIARTY: It's not only the Chinese government. It may be people friendly to the Chinese government: tycoons from various places fighting for their own interests. It's very difficult to know who's in bed with whom in these sort of situations. But we do have to fight. And that's why three days before Kevin Lau was brutally attacked, there was a march in Hong Kong where more than 6,000 journalists concerned about press freedom marched through the streets to show that they're concern that the oxygen is being slowly sucked out of the room.

And beyond that sense of pressure, there have been many cases of journalists who have been manhandled by protesters or anti-protesters, who've been thrown to the ground trying to take pictures and thrown to the ground and kicked by individuals. And in many cases, no prosecution has followed. And this is something that really disturbs people.

HOBSON: Have you ever feared for your safety because of your reporting in Hong Kong?

MORIARTY: No, I have not. It's a good question. I have not, in part because I'm a veteran correspondent here, in part because I'm a foreigner. And that gives me an added layer of protection. When I'm in China, I feel more vulnerable. But even - when I say in China, I mean in Mainland China - I feel more vulnerable.

But at the same time, I always know because I carry a foreign passport in my pocket, you know, they might reprimand me, they might make life difficult for a little while. But at the end of the day, they would toss me out. And that's probably the worst thing that would happen to me other than some uncomfortable moments. It's tougher, in some ways, for people who aren't journalists who go into China to get information.

Academics who may go in and try to - research something they think is historical, if somebody decides that it's not just historical, it has some meaning for somebody, and they can find themselves in difficulty. And not being reporters and not being inclined to stand up and scream and fight the way reporters generally do, they try to handle things quietly. And in the end, that almost never works.

HOBSON: If journalists in Hong Kong are starting to fear more about the consequences of their reporting, what message needs to get out there that some people are hoping doesn't get out there?

MORIARTY: Well, you know, there's always the power of self-interest. I mean, money is a motivator for many things. And if people feel that somebody is doing stories critical of their business or of the kind of business they're in, or is looking into questions where they're squirreling their money away, these are all issues that can make somebody worry.

Issues about real estate and property development and who's buying what and where, these are issues that can be very, very sensitive because large - extremely large, almost mind-bogglingly large amounts of money can be involved. Hong Kong has a special role, vis-à-vis China, because it's also a route through which money moves. It's a banking center. And so digging into those areas is always something that's going to invite some difficulty.

It's not just always straightforward politics, but there are certain areas that are hot buttons and one of them would still be - after all these years - Tiananmen Square in 1989.

HOBSON: Francis Moriarty is a reporter based in Hong Kong. He's also the convener for press freedom for the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Hong Kong. Mr. Moriarty, thank you so much for your time today.

MORIARTY: It's a pleasure.

HOBSON: This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.