Updated: 03/12/2014 21:01 | By Agence France-Presse

Nine arrested over attack on Hong Kong journalist

Nine men have been arrested in connection with the brutal attack on a veteran Hong Kong journalist that sparked concerns for press freedom in the Chinese city, police said Wednesday.

Nine arrested over attack on Hong Kong journalist

Hong Kong police commissioner Tsang Wai-hung answers questions during a press conference in Hong Kong, on March 12, 2014 - by Laurent Fievet

Kevin Lau, a former editor of the liberal Ming Pao newspaper, was hacked with a cleaver in broad daylight last month by two men who then escaped on a motorbike.

Hong Kong police commissioner Andy Tsang said two triad-connected suspects were arrested on the Chinese mainland, while seven "accomplices" were arrested by his force in several locations across the territory.

"We have been informed (that) two had been arrested in Guangdong (province)... by the mainland authorities," Tsang told reporters, adding that some of the seven arrested by Hong Kong police were also connected to triads. 

Tsang said he believed that mainland police had made the arrests in Dongguan, some 100 kilometres away from the semi-autonomous region.

"The two suspected assailants, both aged 37, are Hong Kong residents and are believed to have a triad background," he said.

Tsang did not say when the arrests in China were made, but said he was informed of them on March 9. The seven in Hong Kong were arrested on Wednesday.

Lau remains in hospital following the assault on February 26 in which he was struck six times on the back and legs with a cleaver, leaving wounds including a 16-centimetre-long (six-inch) gash.

The attack came just weeks after Lau was removed from his position at the helm of radical Ming Pao and replaced with an editor deemed to be pro-Beijing.

The ouster triggered protests over media freedom with mounting concerns that Beijing was seeking to tighten control over the semi-autonomous region.

Tsang said Wednesday that a motive had yet to be established and that no link had so far been made between Lau's journalism and the attack.

He added that an investigation was ongoing and that a request will be made to mainland authorities to return the two suspects to Hong Kong for questioning and trial. 

"We will not rule out any motive. In this investigation, we will leave no stone unturned," he told a press conference, adding that "further arrests may be made".

He said he believed that whoever committed the crime may have been hired.

Lau's wife Vivian Chan said late Wednesday following the police announcement that she still believed the attack was linked to her husband's work. 

"If the truth is to be revealed as soon as possible I hope police can arrest the mastermind. Then we should know [if] the case is linked to his journalism," she told reporters. 

Lau was moved out of intensive care and onto a private ward earlier this month. He remains in hospital and is currently unable to walk.

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