HONG KONG (AP) — A monument at a Hong Kong university that commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre was removed by workers early Thursday over the objections of its creator from Denmark.
The 8-meter (26-foot) tall Pillar of Shame, which depicts 50 torn and twisted bodies piled on top of each other, was made by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt to symbolize the lives lost during the bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
The University of Hong Kong monument was surrounded by workers late Wednesday night. Guards patrolled the site and could be heard making loud clanging sounds as well as drilling noises.
The dismantling of the sculpture came days after pro-Beijing candidates scored a landslide victory in the Hong Kong legislative elections, after amendments in election laws allowed the vetting of all candidates to ensure that they are “patriots” loyal to Beijing.
This was also the week in which Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, traveled to Beijing to cover developments in this semi-autonomous Chinese capital. Lam reported on Beijing’s latest developments. Authorities have shut down dissent in China following the implementation a broad national security law. It appeared that it would target many of the pro-democracy movement that had been affected by mass protests in 2019.
Oct. saw the Pillars of Shame memorial become a major issue. The university insisted that it be destroyed, while rights activists protested. Galschiøt offered to take it back to Denmark provided he was given legal immunity that he won’t be persecuted under Hong Kong’s national security law, but has not succeeded so far.
“No party has ever obtained any approval from the university to display the statue on campus, and the university has the right to take appropriate actions to handle it at any time,” the university said in a statement Thursday.
“Latest legal advice given to the university cautioned that the continued display of the statue would pose legal risks to the university based on the Crimes Ordinance enacted under the Hong Kong colonial government.”
According to the university, it requested that the statue be placed in storage. It also stated that they would continue seeking legal advice regarding follow-up actions.
In October, the university informed the now-defunct candlelight vigil organizer, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, that it had to remove the statue following “the latest risk assessment and legal advice.”
It claimed that the organisation was insolvent, citing oppression. The sculpture did not belong to it. It was then instructed by the university to talk to its creator.
When reached by The Associated Press, sculptor Galschiøt said he was only aware of what was happening to the sculpture Wednesday from social media and other reports.
“We don’t know exactly what happened, but I fear they destroy it,” he said. “This is my sculpture, and it is my property.”
Galschiøt said that he would sue the university if necessary to protect the sculpture.
He previously wrote to the university to declare his ownership of this monument. However, his requests were mostly ignored.
Since Beijing introduced the Hong Kong national security law, more than 100 activists supporting democracy were arrested. It outlaws secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion to intervene in the city’s affairs. Critics claim it has repressed freedoms that were promised Hong Kong in 1997 when the city was transferred to China.
The Pillar of Shame monument has been erected for over two decades, and initially stood at Hong Kong’s Victoria Park before eventually being moved to the University of Hong Kong on a long-term basis.
On June 4th, members of the no longer-existent student union washed the statue in a commemorative ceremony for the Tiananmen massacre. Macao and the city were the last places in China where the Tiananmen crackdown could be commemorated.
Authorities in Hong Kong have banned the annual candlelight Vigil for the last two years due to public health risks from the coronavirus pandemic.
24 people were charged with their participation in Tiananmen Vigil, which took place last year. Thousands followed the activists, who broke through the barricades and lit candles in the park despite the ban.