Hong Kong university removes Tiananmen massacre statue

HONG KONG (AP) – A monument at a Hong Kong university that commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre was removed Thursday morning by workers over objections from its Danish creator.

The 8-meter (26-foot) Pillar of Shame, which features 50 torn and twisted bodies stacked on top of each other, was made by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt to symbolize the lives lost in the bloody military crackdown on protesters pro-democracy in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.

Workers barricaded the monument at the University of Hong Kong on Wednesday evening. Drilling noises and loud clicking could be heard coming from the barricaded site, which was patrolled by guards.

The dismantling of the sculpture came days after pro-Beijing candidates won a landslide victory in Hong Kong’s parliamentary election, after amendments to election laws made it possible to vet all candidates to ensure they are “patriots” loyal to Beijing.

The dismissal also came the same week that Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam traveled to Beijing to report on developments in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, where authorities silenced the dissent following the implementation of a sweeping national security law that appeared to target large sections of the population. pro-democracy movement following the mass protests in 2019.

The pillar of shame monument became a problem in October, with the university demanding it be removed, even as activists and rights groups protested. Galschiøt has offered to bring him back to Denmark on condition that he has legal immunity to avoid persecution under Hong Kong’s National Security Act, but has so far failed.

“No party has ever obtained the university’s approval to display the statue on campus, and the university has the right to take appropriate steps to manage it at any time,” the university said in a statement. press release Thursday.

“The latest legal opinion given to the university warned that the continued display of the statue would pose legal risks to the university based on the Crimes Ordinance passed under the colonial government in Hong Kong.”

The university said it had requested that the statue be in storage and would continue to seek legal advice on follow-up actions.

In October, the university informed the former organizer of the candlelight vigil, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of China’s Democratic Patriotic Movements, that it was due to remove the statue following “the latest assessment of risks and legal advice “.

The organization had declared that it was dissolving, citing a climate of oppression, and that it did not own the sculpture. The university was invited to speak to its creator instead.

Contacted by The Associated Press, sculptor Galschiøt said he was only aware of what was happening to the sculpture on Wednesday from social media and other reports.

“We don’t know exactly what happened, but I’m afraid they’ll destroy it,” he said. “This is my sculpture, and it is my property. “

Galschiøt said he would sue the university if necessary to protect the sculpture.

He had previously written to the university to assert his ownership of the monument, although his requests were largely ignored.

More than 100 pro-democracy activists have been arrested since Beijing implemented the National Security Law in Hong Kong. It prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism, and foreign collusion to interfere in city affairs. Critics say it nullified the freedoms promised in Hong Kong when it was handed over to China by Britain in 1997.

The Pillar of Shame monument stood for more than two decades and was initially located in Hong Kong’s Victoria Park before eventually being transferred to the University of Hong Kong on a long-term basis.

Every year on June 4, members of the former student union would wash the statue to commemorate the Tiananmen massacre. The city, along with Macau, was previously the only places on Chinese soil where the commemoration of the Tiananmen crackdown was allowed.

For the past two years, the annual candlelight vigil in Hong Kong had been banned by authorities, who cited public risks from the coronavirus pandemic.

Some 24 activists were indicted for their role in the Tiananmen vigil last year, in which activists showed up and thousands followed, walking through park barricades to sing songs and light candles despite the police ban from the event.

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