Two unidentified men wearing masks hurled Molotov cocktails into the home of Jimmy Lai, owner of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy newspaper, Apple Daily, early Thursday morning.
The incident is the second time assailants have fire-bombed Lai’s house, the first occurring after the Umbrella Movement wave of protests in 2015.
Lai’s Apple Daily regularly reports on police brutality against pro-democracy protesters, offers organizational information on how to participate in protests, and challenges communist China. Lai himself, 71, escaped communist China, smuggling himself in the bottom of a boat at the age of 12. He is currently the lone millionaire in Hong Kong vocally opposing Chinese human rights violations and persecution in Hong Kong. Beijing has recruited similarly wealthy individuals in the autonomous region to berate protesters for being insufficiently “patriotic.”
The bombers struck on the same day that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced a major concession to the protesters: a full withdrawal of a controversial legislative bill that would have allowed China to extradite individuals from Hong Kong if accused of violating Communist Party law. Protesters have responded to the concession by vowing to continue campaigning for the remaining four out of five key demands they have made of their government.
Apple Daily reported that two men dressed in dark clothing and wearing masks lobbed the Molotov cocktails at Lai’s home at around 1:13 a.m. local time. The explosives reportedly fell outside of the iron gate protecting the building. The incident was caught on video, showing one man hurling the makeshift bombs while the other filmed the attack using a mobile phone. The two then swiftly left on a motorcycle.
Lai was in the house at the time but not near the attack location. A security guard reportedly extinguished the bombs and prevented any injuries:
Police have not yet made any arrests in connection to the incident. The South China Morning Post, owned by China’s wealthiest communist, Jack Ma, claimed on Thursday that police have not “been able to contact” Lai since the attack. The same police sources told the newspaper that authorities believe the fire-bombing was not meant to injure Lai, but to “warn” him to stop supporting pro-freedom elements in the city, particularly now that the government has promised to withdraw the extradition bill.
Lai has faced a barrage of threats, insults, and attacks from communists and their sympathizers for Apple Daily’s coverage of police brutality and the peaceful pro-democracy movement. As the Asian outlet Coconuts noted, Thursday was not even the first time someone has fire-bombed Lai’s house. Unknown assailants staged a similar attack in 2015 after Lai had actively participated in the 2014 pro-democracy protests and supported the anti-communist occupy movement in Hong Kong. Police similarly did not arrest anyone in connection with the attack, and the assailants appeared to have set on fire the van they used to travel to Lai’s house.
Other attacks on Lai include:
In another, slightly more bizarre, incident in 2014, a man hurled animal entrails at Lai while he was visiting the Umbrella Movement occupation site in Admiralty.
Also around the time of the Umbrella Movement, someone paid a newspaper to run a full-page ad carrying a fake obituary of Lai saying he died from “AIDS and multiple cancers,” and knife-wielding masked men poured soy sauce over copies of Apple Daily at the paper’s distribution centers.
The South China Morning Post noted that Lai was also the subject of an assassination plot a decade ago tied to triad groups, the organized crime syndicates that have made their home in Hong Kong for decades. The triad gangsters arrested were found to be hiding out in China and prosecuted in Shenzhen, the Chinese province that borders Hong Kong.
Lai has been unapologetically anti-communist for the entirety of his career, which began in the clothing industry. Lai is the proprietor of the clothing chain Giordano and only later in his career shifted gears into media, founding Apple Daily in the 1980s. His regular presence at pro-democracy protests this year prompted a hateful attack column last month in Xinhua, the Chinese state news agency.
“The majority of people in Hong Kong have had enough of prolonged radical protests and violence since June. They are especially fed up with media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying who has continuously fanned up social disorder and even violence,” Xinhua’s column, filed more than a thousand miles away in Beijing, read.
Despite his notoriety of spreading disinformation, Lai branded himself as a spokesperson of the Hong Kong people only to hijack the future of the Hong Kong people.”
The attack on Lai follows the Hong Kong government’s announcement that it would cede to one of the protesters’ five demands: the withdrawal of the extradition. Protesters are also demanding direct election of all lawmakers, freedom for political prisoners, an independent inquiry into police brutality, and a withdrawal of the description of the peaceful June 12 protest as a “riot.”
Under the slogan “five key demands, not one less,” protesters have vowed to continue taking the streets.