US law firm Mayer Brown will no longer work with the University of Hong Kong (HKU) in their efforts to remove a Tiananmen Massacre statue from their campus.

Pillar of Shame
The Pillar of Shame. Photo: Kris Cheng/HKFP.

It comes after more than a week of media and political pressure, and an open letter from 28 civil society groups, urging the firm to stop supporting the removal of the monument to the 1989 victims, which has stood on campus for 24 years.

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The now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and its liquidators received a letter from Mayer Brown last week, asking them to remove the two-ton Pillar of Shame by this Wednesday, despite two back-to-back typhoons. They referred HKU to the original artist, Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt, who has asserted ownership over the statue.

“Going forward, Mayer Brown will not be representing its long-time client in this matter,” the firm said in a statement on Friday according to the Washington Post.

pillar of shame 2020 jens (16)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

A source told the paper that the firm is only withdrawing its representation on the issue of the statue, and will still work with HKU as its longstanding client.

See also: The Pillar of Shame: The history of Hong Kong’s harrowing tribute to the Tiananmen massacre victims

Galschiøt said in a statement that he welcomed the news: “This is an example [showing] that it is worth raising your voice against injustice. It is very life-affirming that, when thousands of ordinary people go together, you are able to crack an international law firm. A company that writes – on the one hand – on their website that they support human rights and – on the other hand – are helping to fight down democracy in Hong Kong by destroying the only memorial to the Tiananmen Square Massacre that exists on Chinese soil.”

jens Galschiøt
Jens Galschiøt. Photo: Youtube screenshot.

“This is extreme hypocrisy. This hypocrisy has driven the pressure on Mayer Brown. The public simply will not accept that kind of double [morality],” he added.

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

Int’l pressure

Earlier this week, an open letter signed by 28 human rights and civil society organisations around the world 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.”

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“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.

pillar of shame 2020 jens (16)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

US senators Lindsey Graham and Ted Cruz had also condemned Mayer Brown, with Cruz telling journalist Eli Lake that “American firms should be ashamed to be complicit” in the statue’s removal.”

Earlier, the firm told HKFP that they were assisting their client on “a real estate matter.”

University head silent

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

University head Xiang Zhang did not respond to HKFP’s questions as to whether he agreed with the statue’s removal. Nor did his office say whether free expression was still assured on campus, or whether the statue would be preserved or destroyed.

Zhang Xiang
Zhang Xiang. Photo: HKU screenshot.

His spokesperson referred HKFP to a previous HKU statement saying they they are “still seeking legal advice and working with related parties.”

However, he told state-run Chinese news wire Xinhua on Tuesday that the university would make greater contributions to China and leverage opportunities brought by national policies.

Friday’s reversal by the US law firm comes a day after Microsoft’s LinkedIn became the last major western social media firm to pull out of China amid censorship concerns.

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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.