Two Hong Kong newspaper executives were attacked in a busy tourist area by four masked men armed with iron pipes, police said on Thursday.
The man and woman work for Hong Kong Media News, which is preparing to launch a Chinese-language newspaper.
They were identified as Lei Lun-han, 46, director and vice-president, and news controller Lam Kin-ming, 54.
Police said the attackers, wearing caps, surgical masks and gloves, attacked the pair on Wednesday in Tsim Sha Tsui near the Hong Kong Science Museum before fleeing in a car.
The victims were treated for injuries to the face, arms and legs at Queen Elizabeth Hospital and were discharged on Wednesday evening.
“I suspect the attack has something to do with the work they have put into this newspaper. Does someone not want this paper to come out?” pro-democracy lawmaker James To told reporters.
Last month, Hong Kong Media News representatives rebutted rumours that it had connections with investors in mainland China, but did not address why a company registered in the British Virgin Islands was backing the newspaper.
The attack came shortly before two men with alleged triad organized crime backgrounds were charged with a February attack on former Ming Pao newspaper editor Kevin Lau Chun-to.
That attack triggered large-scale protests over the climate of press freedom in Hong Kong.
“This latest assault further confirms the worsening climate for press freedom in Hong Kong,” said Joel Simon, executive director of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists.
An annual World Press Freedom Index released by Paris-based Reporters Without Borders last month showed Hong Kong slipping three places to 61st this year. In 2002, when the index was first released, Hong Kong was ranked 18th, the best in Asia.
U.S. State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Thursday that Washington was concerned about the latest reports. “We are troubled by a series of incidents over the past year that seem to target Hong Kong media figures,” she said.
“We expect Hong Kong’s law enforcement authorities will fully and transparently investigate these incidents.” Ms. Psaki added that freedom of the press was crucial to Hong Kong’s success and reputation as a leading centre of global commerce.
The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Hong Kong also voiced its concern, saying in a statement: “After the attack on Kevin Lau ... this latest incident only underscores the deepening shadows being cast over the media landscape in Hong Kong from violence, intimidation and interference by political and commercial interests.”
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said that Hong Kong is ruled by law and such violent behaviour is “intolerable.”
Last June, three masked men threatened distribution workers with knives, and then burned 26,000 copies of the Chinese-language newspaper Apple Daily. Chen Ping, the publisher of another media company, iSun Affairs, was also beaten by a group of baton-wielding men last year.
Britain returned Hong Kong to China in 1997, but as part of the handover agreement Hong Kong was allowed to keep civil liberties such as freedom of the press and freedom of assembly until 2047.