Hong Kong: a statue in memory of Tiananmen unbolted

A statue paying homage to the victims of the Tiananmen crackdown was removed from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) on Thursday, after 23 years of presence on the scene, university officials said Thursday.

“The decision regarding the old statue was taken on the basis of an external legal opinion and of a risk assessment for the best interest of the University, “the institution said in a statement, as groups and places commemorating the June 4 crackdown 1989 have become the target of Beijing’s draconian national security law.

Hong Kong has long been the only place in China where the commemoration of the Tiananmen events of 1989 was tolerated. Every year, HKU students cleaned the statue installed on their campus in 1997 to honor the victims of these events.

But Beijing printed its authoritarian mark on the former British colony after the large and sometimes violent demonstrations of 2019, by imposing a law on national security which prohibits, among other things, the commemoration of Tiananmen .

In October, officials from the University of Hong Kong (HKU) ordered the removal of the sculpture depicting a tangle of 50 bodies deformed by pain, already citing legal risks, without citing which ones.

The statue was put out of view on Wednesday evening before being unbolted Thursday morning to be stored elsewhere, assured the university.

– “Shocking” –

In its press release, the institution ensures that no one had obtained formal authorization to exhibit this statue and cites a crimi ordinance nelle dating from colonial times to justify its withdrawal.

This law includes the crime of sedition and has recently been increasingly used by authorities – alongside the new National Security Law – to criminalize dissent.

The statue “The Pillar of Shame”, in October 2021 at the University of Hong Kong (AFP / Archives – Peter PARKS) As workers bustled around the statue at night, the author of the statue, the Dane Jens Galschiot, questioned by AFP, found “strange” and “shocking” that the university is attacking the sculpture, which, according to him, remains private property.

“This sculpture is really expensive. So if they destroy it, then of course, we will pursue them”, he added, “it is not fair”.

Mr. Galschiot says he tried to contact the university with the help of lawyers and offered to resume his work.

He also ensures that HKU officials never contacted him or warned him of the dismantling of the statue.

The artist sent an email to his supporters asking to “document everything that can happen to the sculpture”.

During 30 years ago, a candlelight vigil was organized in Hong Kong, attracting tens of thousands of people.

With its slogans for democracy and for the end of the one party in China, this meeting was a symbol of the political freedoms enjoyed by the former British colony.

The authorities banned the last two vigils, citing the pandemic and security issues as reasons.