Firebomb attacks on home, office of Hong Kong media tycoon

Firebomb attacks on the Hong Kong home and office of pro-democracy newspaper tycoon Jimmy Lai Monday have triggered new fears over the safety of outspoken media figures in the city.

Hong Kong: Firebomb attacks on the Hong Kong home and office of pro-democracy newspaper tycoon Jimmy Lai Monday have triggered new fears over the safety of outspoken media figures in the city.

The twin attacks in the early hours of the morning came as tension remains high in the southern Chinese city after more than two months of protests for free leadership elections, which ended when rally camps were cleared in December.

Lai was targeted during the protests by a group of men who threw rotten meat at him and printworks producing his outspoken Apple Daily newspaper were repeatedly attacked.

Other journalists and media workers have also been targeted including the former editor of liberal newspaper Ming Pao who was stabbed in the street in broad daylight last February.

"Anti-democratic forces in Hong Kong keep resorting to violence," Lai`s spokesman Mark Simon told AFP. 

"Violence and intimation seem to be the ongoing currency for those opposed to democracy and free press. There is no other plausible explanation here."

Monday`s two almost simultaneous attacks were reported just before 2:00 am (1800 GMT) at Lai`s home and the Next Media headquarters, which publishes Apple Daily, according to a police spokeswoman.

"The cases have been classified as arson. We are still verifying the details," the spokeswoman told AFP.

Security camera footage uploaded to the Apple Daily website shows a masked man throwing a flaming glass bottle towards the gate of Lai`s mansion in upmarket Ho Man Tin. It explodes on the ground outside as the suspect flees in a car.

Footage from outside the Next Media headquarters in a suburban industrial park also shows a flaming bottle thrown towards the building entrance and smashing on the ground.

There were no reports of injuries. Simon said the attacks were "more depressing than shocking" for Hong Kong and the free press. 

He added that Lai, 66, had been told of what happened and quickly went back to bed.

"He is psychologically prepared for anything. It`s Jimmy Lai," Simon told AFP.

The South China Morning Post newspaper reported that two cars suspected to have been used in the attacks were later found torched.

No arrests have been made so far, police said.

The firebombings take place against a backdrop of increased vigilance at media organisations across the globe in the wake of the deadly attacks on the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine in Paris.

Simon emphasised that they "in no way compared" to those in France but voiced his fears over the violence.

"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."

Lai was a regular visitor to the protest camps in Hong Kong which brought parts of the city to a standstill.

He was arrested at the clearance of the main Admiralty camp and has been asked to appear at a police station later this month to help with the investigation into the demonstrations.

Police have promised to target the "principal instigators" of the protests which called for full democracy after China declared that candidates for the city`s leadership election in 2017 would be vetted by a loyalist committee.

Lai stepped down as chairman of Next Media in December following his arrest, citing his desire to spend more time with his family. He is still a major shareholder of the company. 

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