The University of Hong Kong has ordered the removal of a statue commemorating protesters killed in the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown in China.
The 8-meter-tall (26-foot) copper statue was the centerpiece of Hong Kong’s candlelight vigils on June 4 to commemorate those killed when Chinese tank-backed troops opened fire on pro-democracy activists unarmed in Beijing.
The statue, called the Pillar of Shame, shows 50 anguished faces and tortured bodies stacked on top of each other, and has been on display in Hong Kong’s oldest university for more than two decades.
The move was castigated by Danish statue sculptor Jens Galschiøt, who said his removal illustrated the ongoing purge of dissent in the once Frankish and semi-autonomous business center.
In a legal letter to the now-dissolved Hong Kong Alliance (HKA) – the organizer of the city’s annual grand vigil in Tiananmen – the university called on the group “immediately … to make arrangements for the sculpture be removed from the university premises “before 5 pm on October 13.
“If you don’t remove the sculpture… it will be considered abandoned,” the letter reads.
He added that the university will treat the statue in any way it sees fit without further notice.
Richard Tsoi, a former member of the HKA standing committee, said the university’s request was “unreasonable” and he asked his chancellor to keep the statue.
“As an area of free speech and academic freedom, the University of Hong Kong has a social responsibility and mission to preserve the pillar of shame,” Tsoi said.
Galschiøt said he was “shocked if there were plans to desecrate the only memorial to such an important and important event in Chinese history.”
“I wish the Pillar would stay in Hong Kong, where it is today. It would be historically correct. The pillar is an important work of art that has a historical connection to Hong Kong and should remain on Chinese land, ”he said.
The university said its request was “based on the latest risk assessment and legal advice.”
Groups and locations linked to the commemoration of the June 4 massacre have become the latest target in a sweeping national security law that China imposed on the city last year to quell dissent after huge and often violent demonstrations for democracy.