The University of Hong Kong (HKU) is not budging on their demand that a two-ton Tiananmen Massacre statue is removed from campus, despite two back-to-back typhoons in recent days. Meanwhile, a group of 28 civil society groups has called on US law firm Mayer Brown to rescind their agreement to represent the institution amid concerns over free speech.

Tiananmen Square Massacre Pillar of Shame HKUSU
File Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and its liquidators Richard Tsoi and Elizabeth Tang said they received a letter from Mayer Brown – signed anonymously – last Thursday, asking the defunct group to remove the Pillar of Shame.

When asked by HKFP about whether Wednesday’s deadline for removal will be extended in light of two T8 storm signals since Saturday, an HKU spokesperson said they “do not have any further updates for the time being.” Mayer Brown did not respond to enquiries.

pillar of shame 2021 Tiananmen Massacre HKU
File Photo: Tom Grundy/HKFP.

Meanwhile, Tsoi told HKFP there were still no plans to remove the statue as the university had not responded to their letter asking for clarifications.

The eight-metre tall harrowing monument to those killed by the military during the crackdown has stood on the campus for 24 years.

See also: The Pillar of Shame: History of the harrowing tribute to the Tiananmen victims

The Tiananmen Massacre occurred on June 4, 1989, ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

Open letter

An open letter signed by 28 human rights and civil society organisations around the world has called on the US law firm to drop HKU as their client.

The letter cited Mayer Brown’s mission to “play a role in making a positive difference in the lives of others” and urged them to “safeguard their reputation and their integrity in defending the right of freedom of expression by rescinding their agreement.”

Tiananmen Square Massacre Pillar of Shame
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.
Letter signatories – click to view
  • Visual Artists Guild, Ann Lau, Chair
  • Humanitarian China, Zhou Fengsuo, President
  • Women’s Rights in China
  • Chinese Democratic Education Foundation, Fang Zheng
  • Hong Kong Affairs Association of Berkeley
  • Committee for US International Broadcasting, Ann Noonan, Executive Director
  • Women’s Rights Without Frontiers, Reggie Littlejohn, Founder and President
  • Northern California Hong Kong Club
  • DC4HK – Washingtonians Supporting Hong Kong
  • SEArious For HKG
  • US Hongkongers Club, Bruce Lee, Chairman
  • Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC)
  • Vancouver Society in Support of Democratic Movement
  • Hong Kong Committee in Norway
  • Hong Kongers in San Francisco Bay Area
  • Cornell Society for the Promotion of East Asian Liberty
  • Germany Stands with Hong Kong
  • Fight for Freedom. Stand with Hong Kong.
  • Hong Kong Watch
  • Hong Kong Social Action Movements in Boston
  • Democracy for Hong Kong (D4HK)
  • NY4HK
  • Torontonian HongKongers Action Group
  • Canada-Hong Kong Link
  • Toronto Association for Democracy in China
  • Hong Kong Forum, Los Angeles
  • Las Vegas Stands with Hong Kong (LV4HK)
  • Netherlands for Hong Kong

“For the Mayer Brown law firm to demand that it be removed after all these years when there had been no objections from the university officials nor from the student body in the past, shows that Mayer Brown has violated its stated mission to make a positive difference in the lives of citizens in Hong Kong,” the letter said.

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Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt – who has insisted he retains ownership of the statue -told HKFP that the university has not been in touch with him, and he would consider legal action if the Pillar of Shame is damaged.

“It will take a long time to move the sculpture,” Galschiøt said. “It is an extremely valuable piece of art, which after 24 years probably is a bit frail. Therefore there is a great possibility that the work of art will suffer irreparable damage if handled by any others than experts in handling art,” he added in a statement on Saturday. He said HKU “risks incurring a claim of compensation.”

Free speech

The university has cited “risk management” in its demands for the statue to be removed.

Earlier this year, it  cut ties with its student union, which supported the 2019 pro-democracy protests, citing “legal risks.” It has since pulled down pro-democracy displays from its campus, and urged its students not to tarnish the school’s reputation.

HKU University of Hong Kong
The University of Hong Kong. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Four of its students have been arrested and charged with “advocating terrorism” under the national security law after the union passed a declaration expressing sympathy with a man who committed suicide after stabbing a police officer. The union retracted the motion and its leadership stepped down shortly afterwards, but it still sparked anger.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.