Hong Kong jails 5 students as row over Tiananmen sculpture intensifies

The students are convicted of 'rioting' after being arrested defending their campus from an assault by riot police, who fired 1,000 rounds of tear gas in a single day.
By Lu Xi
2021.10.19
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Hong Kong jails 5 students as row over Tiananmen sculpture intensifies Students prepare to clean the 'Pillar of Shame,' a monument that commemorates the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, at the University of Hong Kong, June 4, 2021.
AFP

A court in Hong Kong on Tuesday handed down jail terms of nearly five years to five students in connection with the siege by riot police of the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) in November 2019.

Lau Chun-yuk, Ko Chi-pan, Chan Lik-sik and Hui Yi-chuen, aged 20 to 23, were sentenced to four years and nine months' imprisonment by the District Court, which jailed Foo Hoi-ching for four years and eleven months, government broadcaster RTHK reported on Tuesday.

The court found them guilty of rioting and breaching a face mask ban in place at the time, while Foo and Hui were also convicted of possess offensive weapons or items that could be used in such a way.

Deputy district judge Kathie Cheung said she had handed down the heavy sentences as a deterrent, because the students had engaged in violence against law enforcement officers, RTHK said.

The students had been wearing the black clothing of the 2019 protest movement, including gear to protect them against the tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets and police beatings that characterized that year's protests.

Cheung said this showed they had intended to join in, and likened the scene to a "battlefield."

CUHK students put up an organized defense when police tried to enter the CUHK campus, setting up makeshift barricades with furniture, trash cans and umbrellas, and throwing Molotov cocktails and other projectiles at police, as police rained tear gas and other "non-lethal" munitions down on them, leaving the entire campus wreathed with CS gas.

'Pillar of Shame'

Riot police went on to lay siege to the Polytechnic University, meeting with similar levels of resistance, later in the month.

Meanwhile, the row over the University of Hong Kong (HKU)'s plan to remove the "Pillar of Shame" sculpture commemorating the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen massacre has intensified with the withdrawal of Chicago-based law firm Mayer Brown from its representation of the university after an international outcry.

The firm had written to the now-disbanded Tiananmen vigil organizers, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, requesting the sculpture's removal by 5.00 p.m. on Oct. 13, sparking the anger of its creator Jens Galschiøt, who said he has hired a lawyer to protect his property, which was only on loan to the Alliance.

Following Mayer Brown's withdrawal, former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying took to his Facebook account on Oct. 18 to denounce the firm as having been "infiltrated by foreign foreign powers" and calling on all "Chinese" clients to withdraw their business. It was unclear whether he meant people of Chinese descent or citizens of the People's Republic of China.

Leung, now a high-ranking official in a ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) political advisory body, said the firm had abandoned HKU and bowed to political pressure coming from the U.S., and called for an investigation by the Hong Kong Law Society.

Political denunciations by Chinese officials and CCP-backed media have often preceded investigations by the authorities in Hong Kong, where the imposition of a draconian national security law by Beijing from July 1, 2020 has ushered in a citywide crackdown on public dissent and democratic political opposition.

Mayer Brown has declined to comment further since announcing its withdrawal as HKU's representative on Oct. 15.

Ethical conflicts

Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt welcomed Mayer Brown's withdrawal, which came after more than 20 groups wrote an open letter protesting its involvement, and said Leung's diatribe was "completely crazy," and had pushed the incident to a whole new level.

He said it was important to keep alive the memory of the June 1989 massacre by the People's Liberation Army that ended weeks of student-led protests, hunger-strikes and calls for democracy and the rule of law, and for the world to continue to pay tribute to those who died.

Benedict Rogers, founder of the U.K.-based rights group Hong Kong Watch, which signed the letter, said the campaign had been successful, and said Leung's call for a boycott of Mayer Brown showed how companies that do business with China are increasingly being forced to face up to ethical conflicts.

Zhou Fengsuo, a former 1989 student leader and founder of the U.S.-based rights group Humanitarian China, which also signed, said China is now openly trying to manipulate foreign companies and change the rules of doing business internationally.

"The CCP has made a deliberate choice to stand in opposition to the international community," Zhou told RFA. "It's actually a kind of decoupling."

"International companies, including lawyers, have a tendency to cave in to Beijing for profit, but now that this kind of confrontation is getting more and more direct, they may be forced to make a choice in the end," he said.

"These law firms that sit on the fence need to be more vigilant about the risks of doing business in China," Zhou said. "U.S. companies need to pick a side; they can't be on both."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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