Mayer Brown calls for boycott against removal of Hong Kong Tiananmen statue

Mayor Brown is facing a call to boycott his services in China after he moved away from a U.S. law firm to help a local university remove a memorial to the Tiananmen Square massacre from its campus.

The attack on Hong Kong’s former chief executive, Siwai Leung, paints a picture of confrontational pressure on Western businessmen in China, with Beijing demanding their support for its repressive policies but doing so has provoked protests from Western governments.

The Chicago-based law firm has come under fire from U.S. lawmakers for its role in representing the University of Hong Kong, which this month ordered the removal of 8-meter-long “Pillar of Shame” by Danish artist Jens Galsiot. The sculpture, built in 1997, commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Crackdown in Beijing.

But the introduction of a comprehensive national security law by Beijing over Hong Kong last year has sparked controversy among most public opinion, including universities, which authorities have blamed for fostering political extremism during the 2019 city’s anti-government protests.

The People’s Political Consultative Conference of China, a mainland political advisory body, and Vice-Chairman of the National Committee also accused Leung of succumbing to US political pressure, as he would no longer represent the university on the issue.

“I urge Mayor Brown to boycott China. Hong Kong will have to give full account of its decision to stop working for the University of Hong Kong and the foreign intervention that led to this decision, ”Leung told the Financial Times on Sunday.

“Any client in Hong Kong or mainland China, especially those with Chinese government connections, will not find Mayor Brown reliable.”

Siwai Leung, a nationalist firebrand, topped Hong Kong from 2012 to 2017. Bloomberg

The law firm sent a letter this month on behalf of the university to a Hong Kong agency that had previously organized the city’s annual Tiananmen Surveillance and was held responsible for the sculpture. The party broke up last month after its leadership was arrested on security law charges.

Mayor Brown’s letter called for the removal of the shame pillar by Oct. 13.

In response, two civil society groups signed an open letter calling on Mayer Brown to step down from university representation, stressing the importance of “protecting the integrity of the institution while protecting freedom of expression.” Republican senators, including Ted Cruz and Lindsay Graham, have also condemned the agency.

Mayer Brown, who merged with local firm Johnson Stokes & Master in 200 firm, initially defended the university’s representation, saying the dispute was only a real estate issue.

But on Friday the agency stepped back and said, “Going forward, Mayor Brown will not represent his long-term client in this matter.”

The FT contacted Mayor Brown with a request for comment.

The removal of the sculpture was delayed because Galschiot, who claimed ownership, wanted legal representation in Hong Kong.

Beijing has increasingly demanded that companies support its policies in Hong Kong. In June 2020, local law and foreign banks publicly supported the introduction of the security law.

Last week, LinkedIn announced that it would shut down its flagship service in China, where it had 54 million users.

Some academics have also told the FT that self-censorship has increased in the face of security law threats, with many reporting to authorities or targeting pro-Beijing media and then facing legal and professional consequences.

Teachers said the expected removal of the pillar of shame was another sign that academic freedom was being undermined.

“Academics are scared,” said one professor. “Some people are afraid to say something in class that they might say otherwise because it could take them out of context.”

Video: How the National Security Act is changing Hong Kong

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