Hong Kong university dismantles Tiananmen statue from campus

Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot’s eight-meter-tall “Pillar of Shame” to pay tribute to victims of the Tiananmen Square crackdown in Beijing on June 4, 1989 is seen before its withdrawal to Hong Kong University (HKU) in Hong Kong, China on October 12, 2021. REUTERS / Tyrone Siu / Files

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HONG KONG, Dec.23 (Reuters) – A major Hong Kong university has brought down a statue on its campus that, for more than two decades, commemorates pro-democracy protesters killed in China’s Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989, Reuters witnesses said.

Late Wednesday night, security officers from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) placed yellow barricades around the eight-meter (26-foot) high, two-ton copper sculpture called the “Pillar of. shame ”which commemorates those killed by the Chinese authorities. over three decades ago.

The artwork, depicting anguished human torsos, is one of the few public monuments in the former British colony to remember the bloody crackdown which is a taboo subject in mainland China, where it cannot be commemorated publicly.

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Two Reuters reporters saw dozens of workers wearing yellow helmets enter the site of the statue, which had been draped on all sides by white plastic sheeting and was guarded by dozens of security personnel.

Loud noises of power tools and chains emanated from the closed area for several hours before workers were seen transporting the top half of the statue and hoisting it on a crane to a shipping container in waiting.

Several months ago, the university sent a legal letter to the guardians of the statue requesting its removal.

Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot, who created the statue, said in a statement that he was “totally shocked” by the action against his private property and that he “would seek compensation for any damage caused to the sculpture”.

The university did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

Some students said the move would damage HKU’s reputation.

“The college is a coward to do this action at midnight,” a 19-year-old student named Chan said. “I am very disappointed because it is a symbol of history. This university claims to advocate academic freedom but it cannot even keep a historic monument.”

Another student named Leung said he was “heartbroken” to see the statue “being cut to pieces”.

The removal of the statue is the last measure targeting people or organizations affiliated with the sensitive June 4, 1989, date and events that mark it.

Authorities have cracked down on Hong Kong under a Chinese-imposed national security law that is used to suppress civil society, jail democracy activists and restrict fundamental freedoms.

Western governments have accused China of using the security law as a tool of repression. Authorities say the law restored order and stability to the city after massive street protests in 2019.

China has never provided a full account of the 1989 crackdown. Authorities have taken a toll of around 300 dead, but human rights groups and witnesses say thousands could to have been killed.

“What the Communist Party wants is for us all to forget about this (Tiananmen). It is very unfortunate,” John Burns, a political scientist at the university for more than 40 years who had requested that the statue, told Reuters. rest.

“They would like this to be forgotten in the world.”

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Additional reporting by Alun John and Eduardo Baptista; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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