Former Hong Kong leader calls for 'China-wide boycott' of Mayer Brown after statue controversy

Leung Chun-ying said US firm bowed to international pressure by ceasing to advise longtime client over Tiananmen Square statue removal efforts
University of Hong Kong-4June2021:hundred of students and media journalists,with mask on face,attended the statue Pillar of Shame memorial ceremony to the Tiananmen Massacre dead in 1989 Beijing China

Students commemorate the Tiananmen Square massacre on 4 June HUI YT; Shutterstock

Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying has called for a ‘China-wide boycott’ of Mayer Brown after the US law firm announced it would no longer assist its longtime client, the University of Hong Kong, in efforts to remove a monument commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre. 

In a Facebook post published on Sunday after he was approached for comment by the Financial Times, Leung claimed the US firm had bowed to “American and European political pressure” after it faced criticism over its original decision to take on the University of Hong Kong’s case.

“Hong Kong has a welcoming policy for foreign law firms. But no law firm, having taken on an instruction, should cease to act for its client because of foreign political pressure,” Leung wrote. “From here on, no client in Hong Kong or Mainland China, particularly those with Chinese government connections, will find Mayer Brown dependable.” 

The former leader called on Mayer Brown to release a full account of its decision to cease its work with the University of Hong Kong and an account of the “foreign interventions leading to that decision”. 

Leung, who served as Hong Kong’s chief executive between 2012 and 2017 and currently serves as the vice-chair of Beijing’s legislative consulting body, also asked the Hong Kong Law Society to launch an investigation into the matter. 

At the same time, Law Society president CM Chan condemned any attempt to harass law firms or lawyers “because they happen to represent parties with different political views” in a circular tweeted by reporter Alvin Lum, a political reporter for Citizen News, on Saturday. Chan did not name any law firms or individuals in the letter. 

“As a legal representative having accepted instructions from a client, the solicitor is under a duty to act in the best interest of the client and to provide a proper standard of service,” he wrote. 

The controversy first blew up when a letter written by the Chicago firm on 7 October on behalf of its client calling for the removal of the artwork was made public. The firm had written to the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, a now-disbanded regional pro-democracy organisation, setting a deadline of 13 October, after which the statue would be deemed ‘abandoned’.

News of Mayer Brown’s role in seeking the statue’s removal sparked an open letter from dozens of NGOs across the world calling on the firm to withdraw its representation. 

Known as the ‘Pillar of Shame’, the 26-foot-high sculpture by Danish artist Jens Glaschiøt was erected in 1997. It is reportedly the only major memorial to the Tiananmen Square massacre remaining on Chinese soil and is currently still standing on the University of Hong Kong’s campus in Pok Fu Lam. 

Tony Williams, principal of Jomati Consultants, said the controversy reflects the “very difficult position” faced by international law firms in Hong Kong when choosing to take on cases relating to the protest movement or Beijing’s national security law imposed on the city last summer. 

“In these circumstances it is hardly surprising that law firms are considering very carefully who they act for and what they act for them on,” he said. “It clearly demonstrates the challenges global organisations face when operating in a myriad of locations with different sensitivities, especially when social media can turn a difficult decision into a media storm within hours.”

In March, in an unprecedented move, China imposed sanctions on London's Essex Court Chambers in retaliation for a legal opinion published by four of its tenants on the treatment of the Uighur Muslim minority group in Xinjiang.

Mayer Brown did not immediately respond to a request for comment. 


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