Arson attacks against the home and newspaper offices of Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai on Monday sparked renewed fears for press freedom in the semiautonomous Chinese city following a string of attacks on outspoken media figures in recent years.
Unidentified attackers tossed petrol bombs outside two entrances of the Next Media offices in Hong Kong,and at Lai's luxury home on Hong Kong's Kadoorie Avenue in the early hours of Monday, his own newspaper reported.
The website of Lai's flagship Apple Daily newspaper showed clips from its own security camera footage, in which masked men throw a flaming bottle at Lai's mansion gates, and outside the main entrance of Next Media's headquarters, before driving away in a car.
In the footage from Lai's home, an explosion is seen as the bottle hits the ground.
A spokesman for Next Media, which owns the Apple Daily, said the attacks, which resulted in no casualties, were politically motivated.
"Violence and intimidation seem to be the ongoing currency for those opposed to democracy and free press. There is no other plausible explanation here," Next Media spokesman Mark Simon told Agence France-Presse.
"Anti-democratic forces in Hong Kong keep resorting to violence," he said. Lai reportedly went back to bed after being told what happened, and was unaffected by the attacks.
Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ip Yut-kin said the group will step up security measures following the attacks.
"Actually, we are pretty frightened, but I know that my colleagues will weather this," Ip told RFA on Monday.
"Naturally I condemn this violence, and call on people to behave in a more civilized manner," he said, adding: "We will probably be hiring more security guards now."
Senior Next Media union official Choi Yuen-kwooi said employees would likely take the attacks in stride. "This isn't the first time; previously, we were besieged in our headquarters [by a crowd of pro-Beijing activists]," he said. "We are used to weathering a storm."
Lai, 66, who founded Next Media, resigned from his positions as chairman and executive director after being arrested during police clearances of the 79-day occupation of Admiralty district by protesters campaigning for fully democratic elections.
Lai had made no secret of his public support for the "Umbrella Movement," that began on Sept. 28 and brought hundreds of thousands onto the streets at its peak, and said he was resigning to spend more time with his family and to concentrate on his "personal interests."
'Threat to press freedom'
The Hong Kong Journalists' Association (HKJA) said Monday's attacks represent a "threat to press freedom."
"When the attackers threw those firebombs, they weren't just targeting Jimmy Lai," HKJA spokeswoman Shum Yee-lan told RFA. "Next Media is one of the most influential news organizations in Hong Kong."
"This attack ... is a threat to press freedom in Hong Kong, and the HKJA condemns such violence in the strongest terms," she said.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Frederick Fung agreed. "There have been a series of incidents targeting Next Media, which has a very different viewpoint to the government," he said. "How is this not connected [to press freedom]?"
He called on Hong Kong people to stand up in support of the territory's traditional freedoms.
"I hope Hong Kong people will unite against violence, and I call on the police to bring these violent perpetrators to justice as soon as possible," he said.
Hong Kong justice secretary Rimsky Yuen said the attacks, which come amid global fears for press freedom in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, wouldn't be tolerated.
"Regardless of who the victim of the attacks is, their social status, political background, or viewpoint, Hong Kong, as a city with rule of law, will certainly not tolerate this," Yuen told reporters.
"The police will carry out a full investigation, treating it like any other incident," he said.
But Hong Kong's Democratic Party called on the city's government to take more conspicuous action to protect press freedom in the city, which was promised a high degree of autonomy and the protection of its traditional freedoms under the terms of its 1997 handover from Britain to China.
"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 party said in a statement.
"The Democratic Party also urges officials to act to protect freedom of the press," it said.
Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau said there had been a number of attacks aimed at damaging Hong Kong's media organizations, and called on police to get to the bottom of the case.
"Are we going to send the message that there are no consequences for those who harm or attack [the media]?" she said. "Wouldn't that just be plain lawlessness?"
Meanwhile, a pro-democracy group on Monday announced plans for a major protest march on Feb. 1, the first mass rally since two months of Occupy Central protests ended last month.
The Civil Human Rights Front, which coordinates traditional mass protest marches on July 1, the anniversary of the 1997 handover, said the march would continue to call for fully democratic elections for the city's chief executive in 2017.
"We haven't come to the end of the road for the civil disobedience campaign for universal suffrage in Hong Kong, although police may have cleared the occupied areas," the group's convener Daisy Chan told reporters.
Chan said she didn't rule out the possibility of a spontaneous re-occupation of major streets and intersections in Hong Kong following the march, which ends at midnight.
The Occupy Central movement has campaigned for Beijing to withdraw its electoral reform plan, which will give the city's five million voters a vote each in the 2017 election, but will restrict candidates to just two or three approved by a pro-Beijing committee.
Beijing has said any reforms must stick to its Aug. 31 decree, and has slammed international support for the Umbrella Movement, saying that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration on the handover arrangements is "void" and that China answers to no one in exercising sovereignty over Hong Kong.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.