ITV News Correspondent Lucy Watson outlines the implications of the statue's removal
A monument at a Hong Kong university that commemorates the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre has been removed despite the objections of its Danish creator.
The 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.
Workers barricaded the monument at the University of Hong Kong late on Wednesday night. Drilling sounds and loud clanging could be heard coming from the boarded-up site, which was patrolled by guards.
The dismantling of the sculpture came days after pro-Beijing candidates scored a landslide victory in the Hong Kong legislative elections, following amendments in election laws allowed the vetting of all candidates to ensure they are so-called “patriots” loyal to Beijing.
The removal also happened in the same week Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam travelled to Beijing to report on developments in the semi-autonomous Chinese city, where authorities have silenced dissent following the implementation of a sweeping national security law.
The Pillar of Shame monument became an issue in October, with the university demanding that it be removed, even as activists and rights groups protested.
Mr Galschiot offered to take it back to Denmark provided he was given legal immunity that he would not 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 on 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.”
The university said that it had requested for the statue to be put in storage and would continue to seek legal advice on follow-up actions.
In October, the university informed the now-defunct candlelight vigil organiser, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, it had to remove the statue following “the latest risk assessment and legal advice.”
The organisation had 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.
When reached for comment, sculptor Mr Galschiot 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 fear they destroy it,” he said. “This is my sculpture, and it is my property.”
Mr Galschiot said that he would sue the university if necessary to protect the sculpture.