Hong Kong university removes Tiananmen massacre statue

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Intl desk, Dec 23: A monument at Hong Kong university that commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre was removed by workers early on Thursday despite objections by its creator from Denmark.

The 8 metre (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 Galschiot to symbolise the lives lost during the bloody military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

But the statue became an issue of dispute in October, with the university demanding that it be removed, even as the decision drew backlash from activists and rights groups.

Galschiot offered to take it back to Denmark, provided he was given legal immunity that he wouldn’t be persecuted under Hong Kong’s national security law, but has not succeeded thus far.

Workers barricaded the monument at the University of Hong Kong (HKU) late on Wednesday night. Drilling sounds and loud clanging could be heard coming from the boarded-up site, which was patrolled by guards.

HKU confirmed that the statue had been removed and placed in storage.

“The decision on the aged statue was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interests of the University,” the university said in a statement.

The statement said that no party had ever obtained approval to display the statue. It also cited the colonial-era crimes ordinance in justifying its removal.

In October, the university informed the now-defunct candlelight vigil organiser, 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”.

In response, the organisation said it was dissolving, citing a climate of oppression, and that it did not own the sculpture. The university was told to speak to its creator instead.

The Danish sculptor behind the statue said its removal was “really brutal”.

“This is a sculpture about dead people and [to] remember the dead people in Beijing in ’89. So when you destroy that in this way then it’s like going to a graveyard and destroying all the gravestones,” Jens Galschiot told the BBC’s Newshour programme.

Mr Galschiot said he would consider suing the authorities and demand compensation.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, of demonstrators were killed by Chinese troops in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in the summer of 1989.

The incident is considered highly politically sensitive in the mainland and authorities ban even oblique references to the events of June 4.

Hong Kong was one of the very few places in China that allowed public commemoration. However, in 2020, Hong Kong authorities banned vigil for the first time in 30 years, citing Covid restrictions.

Activists accused officials of bowing to pressure from Beijing to muzzle pro-democracy expression.

In October, nine pro-democracy activists were sentenced to between six and 10 months in prison for taking part in the banned 2020 vigil.

Earlier this month, media tycoon Jimmy Lai also received 13 months in prison for participating in the same vigil.

It comes as the Chinese government has clamped down hard in Hong Kong, introducing a strict national security law last year.

The law criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Source: News Agencies