Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai’s (黎智英) home and office in Hong Kong were firebombed early yesterday, renewing fears over the safety of outspoken media figures in the territory.
The attacks came amid heightened tension in the semi-autonomous territory generated by more than two months of protests calling for full democracy after China declared that candidates for Hong Kong’s 2017 chief executive election would be vetted by a loyalist committee. The social phenomenon ended when the last protest camps were cleared last month.
At one point during the demonstrations, Next Media Group (壹傳媒集團) chairman Lai was targeted by a group of men who threw rotten meat at him. Also, the headquarters where Lai’s outspoken Chinese-language newspaper the Apple Daily is produced was repeatedly blockaded to disrupt its distribution.
Lai was regularly visited the pro-democracy camps and was arrested at the clearance of the main camp in Admiralty district.
Other journalists and media workers in Hong Kong have also been victimized for their views, including the former editor of liberal newspaper Ming Pao, who was stabbed in the street in broad daylight in February last year.
“Anti-democratic forces in Hong Kong keep resorting to violence,” Lai spokesman Mark Simon said. “Violence and intimidation seem to be the ongoing currency for those opposed to democracy and free press. There is no other plausible explanation here.”
Yesterday’s attacks occurred almost simultaneously just before 2am, one hitting Lai’s home and the other striking where the Apple Daily is published.
“The cases have been classified as arson,” a police spokeswoman told reporters, adding that no one has been arrested so far.
Security camera footage uploaded to the Apple Daily Web site shows a masked man throwing a flaming glass bottle toward the gate of Lai’s mansion. It explodes on the ground outside as the suspect flees in a car.
Footage from outside the Next Media headquarters also shows a flaming bottle thrown at the building entrance and smashing on the ground. There were no injuries.
Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen (袁國強) condemned the attacks.
“Regardless of who the target is, the social status, political background or stance, Hong Kong as a city with rule of law definitely does not tolerate this,” he said.
The firebombings take place amid increased vigilance at media organizations worldwide after the deadly attacks on satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris.
“Following the terrorist attack at Charlie Hebdo, world leaders stood up and walked the streets of Paris to participate in a protest against violence. The [Hong Kong] Democratic Party also urges officials to act to protect freedom of the press,” the party said.
Simon said the attacks were “more depressing than shocking” and that Lai, 66, had quickly gone back to bed after being told what had happened, adding: “He is psychologically prepared for anything — it’s Jimmy Lai.”
He said the attacks “in no way compared” to those in France, but added: “Peaceful disagreement has been a norm in Hong Kong for so long. Pro-government supporters should really think twice about this kind of violence being imported to Hong Kong over political issues.”
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