Hong Kong rioters' rampage at Xinhua News Agency's Asia-Pacific Bureau on Saturday has drawn wide criticism as an act that wantonly undermines freedom of the press.
The attack has fed into growing concern about the deliberate suppression of the city's long-cherished freedom of expression and the press sparked by rioters having targeted some media organizations in Hong Kong, as well as many innocent people, who were beaten for holding different opinions from the radicals.
In a new upwelling of violence across the city, rioters targeted the long-established national news agency bureau in downtown Hong Kong's Wan Chai area.
The rioters destroyed the office building's security facilities, set fires in front of the building and threw firebombs into the lobby. They spray-painted insulting messages on the outer walls and smashed the front gate and some of the windows.
A Xinhua spokesperson expressed the news agency's "strong indignation with and condemnation of" the rioters' violent acts, which showed that "stopping violence, curbing chaos and restoring order" are the most important and urgent tasks for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
The spokesperson urged Hong Kong police to vigorously investigate the incident.
The Hong Kong Federation of Journalists, representing some 1,000 journalists, lashed out at the targeting of Xinhua News Agency.
The vandalism amounted to an act of serious provocation of the State media agency and a wanton violation of freedom of the press in Hong Kong, the federation said.
On Sunday, the All-China Journalists Association said in a statement that the vandalism at the Xinhua bureau was a gross act of trampling on press freedom and a serious provocation to democracy and the rule of law.
The association said it will safeguard the rights and interests of news organizations and journalists, and it urged the city to punish the perpetrators of illegal acts in accordance with the law, so as to create a fair, just, free and democratic environment for the press.
Earlier, Hong Kong Television Broadcasts Ltd applied to the High Court for an interim injunction banning rioters' assaults on its employees and damage to property when its staff cover the anti-government protests.
The Hong Kong News Executives' Association issued a statement condemning the vandalizing of the Xinhua bureau, urging police to undertake strict measures to ensure the normal operation of news organizations.
Qiu Hong, deputy director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the Hong Kong SAR, also voiced her objection after a public event on Sunday.
Citing a commentary in People's Daily, Qiu said that unlawful conduct targeting news agencies is intolerable in any country. She expressed firm support for police containing the violence and restoring social order, and she called for the public to make concerted efforts to help restore calm.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told China Daily that the attack on Xinhua is an escalation of the rioters' repeated acts of destruction at enterprises and organizations with strong ties to the Chinese mainland.
Recently, a number of mainland-linked bookstores, banks, and retail stores have been repeatedly vandalized during the violent protests, which have been going on for nearly five months.
Veteran Malaysian journalist Wong Chun Wai told China Daily on Sunday that the attack on the Xinhua bureau was "unacceptable" as it went against the very essence of democracy. "To put it bluntly, it borders on terrorism." Wong said.
"In any democracy, we may not agree with each other, but we must defend and uphold the right of the views of others," said Wong, a former chief editor of Star Media Group Berhad, a leading Malaysian news outlet.
He added that if such an incident were to occur in Malaysia, the culprits would have been swiftly identified, arrested and charged in the courts.