Hong Kong: Hong Kong’s oldest university launched an overnight operation Thursday to dismantle a statue commemorating those killed in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in the latest blow to academic freedoms as China cracks down.
The eight-meter (26-feet) high “Pillar of Shame” by Jens Galschiot has sat on the University of Hong Kong’s (HKU) campus since 1997, the year the former British colony was handed back to China.
The sculpture features 50 anguished faces and tortured bodies piled on one another and commemorates democracy protesters killed by Chinese troops around Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Its presence was a vivid illustration of Hong Kong’s freedoms compared to the Chinese mainland where the events at Tiananmen are heavily censored.
But Beijing is currently remolding Hong Kong in its own authoritarian image after democracy protests two years ago and commemorating Tiananmen has become effectively illegal.
In October, HKU officials ordered the removal of the sculpture citing new but unspecified legal risks.
They made good on that promise in the early hours of Thursday morning.
Clanging through the night
University staff used floor-to-ceiling sheets and plastic barriers to shield the statue from view as sounds of drilling and metal clanging could be heard throughout the night, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
Security guards blocked journalists from getting close and tried to stop media outlets from filming.
Workers in hard hats could then be seen using a crane to maneuver a large chunk of the sculpture, wrapped in plastic, toward a nearby container.
HKU confirmed the statue had been removed and placed in storage after the operation was completed.
“The decision on the aged statute was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the University,” the university said.
Its statement said no party had ever obtained approval to display the statue and also cited the colonial-era Crimes Ordinance in justifying its removal.