US law firm drops work on Hong Kong statue removal after criticism

The 8m-high "Pillar of Shame" by Jens Galschiot has sat on the University of Hong Kong's campus since 1997. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - A US law firm said on Friday (Oct 15) it had withdrawn from helping a Hong Kong university remove a statue honouring slain Tiananmen Square protesters after the firm's role sparked condemnation from human rights groups and US politicians.

The 26-foot-tall (8-metre-tall) copper sculpture has been on display at the University of Hong Kong for more than two decades. It depicts dozens of torn and twisted bodies symbolising those killed in China's Tiananmen Square crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 1989.

Law firm Mayer Brown, which had previously described the case as a "real estate matter," said on Friday it "will not be representing its long-time client (the university) in this matter. We have no further comment."

The law firm, one of the biggest in the United States, found itself caught between international public outrage and the sensitivities of doing business in China.

The University of Hong Kong did not immediately reply to request for comment.

The sculpture known as the "Pillar of Shame" is one of the few remaining public symbols of the Tiananmen Square episode, which is a taboo topic in mainland China and cannot be publicly commemorated there.

The Danish sculptor loaned the statue in perpetuity to a Hong Kong civil society group that disbanded last month with some members accused of national security offenses.

On behalf of the university, the law firm asked the group in a letter to remove the sculpture by Wednesday, which did not occur.

In response to criticism, Mayer Brown said earlier this week, "Our legal advice is not intended as commentary on current or historical events."

Join ST's Telegram channel here and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.