A Hong Kong university attempting to remove a memorial to the Tiananmen Square massacre from its campus has hired US law firm Mayer Brown.
The so-called “Pillar of Shame” by Danish artist Jens Galschiot, has stood at the University of Hong Kong since 1997. In an annual ritual, pro-democracy activists wash the statue in the lead-up to local commemorations of the events of June 4 1989.
Since the introduction of a sweeping national security law last year which reshaped the city’s once freewheeling political landscape, authorities have moved to wipe out any commemoration of the Tiananmen killings. The government has banned the annual mass memorial at Victoria Park for two consecutive years, blaming pandemic controls.
Chicago-based Mayer Brown* has an office in Hong Kong and on Thursday the firm sent a letter on the university’s behalf to a Hong Kong organisation involved in arranging Tiananmen memorials in the city, and deemed responsible for the statue, demanding its removal by next Wednesday. The letter was publicly released on Friday.
Richard Tsoi, a former member of the organisation — the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China — responded in a letter to the university protesting against the statue’s threatened removal.
“As a former US corporate firm lawyer, I’m stunned this engagement made it through the firm’s screening processes,” said Samuel Bickett, a Hong Kong-based lawyer who has criticised the local legal system after he was prosecuted over an altercation with an undercover police officer in 2019.
The firm did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Some lawyers argue if they start being selective over their clients, it undermines the rule of law as all participants in the system deserve representation.
The introduction of a new educational curriculum as well as concerns about the vague wording of the new national security law has sent a chill through academia, with lecturers fearing they could be reported to a new national security hotline if they say something politically incorrect.
In recent months, student unions, including at the University of Hong Kong have disbanded or been forced to close. The university said it made the decision after legal advice and a “risk assessment”.
Student organisations played a key role in 2019’s anti-government protests, which sparked Beijing’s moves to bring the city closer in line with the mainland.
This article has been updated to remove an incorrect reference to Mayer Brown’s number of lawyers