By Riyaz ul Khaliq
ISTANBUL (AA) – The eight-meter-tall monument, known as Pillar of Shame, installed in memory of victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Hong Kong, was removed during a night-time operation by local authorities.
The statue figuring victims' faces and created by Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot stood inside the University of Hong Kong (HKU) since 1997.
According to a statement issued by HKU Council on Thursday, the decision to remove the structure from campus was made on Wednesday.
Authorities began preparing to remove the statue around 11 p.m. (1500 GMT) on Wednesday, and a big crane finally removed the structure around 4 a.m. Thursday (2000GMT Wednesday).
Barriers were erected around the statue's location, and all views were barred in order to prevent any photos or videos of the statue's displacement.
The HKU Council claimed that no one had “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 1989 student-led protests started on April 15 and were forcibly suppressed on June 4 when the Chinese government sent the military to seize control of Tiananmen Square. Nearly 300 people were killed and 7,000 injured, including soldiers.
“The university is also very concerned about the potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue. The 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 statement said.
The stature would be stored, besides the university “should continue to seek legal advice on any appropriate follow-up action," the council added.
The Danish sculptor Galschiot has claimed ownership of the statue.
He said the statue “simply been on loan” all these years to the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
The alliance was disbanded recently.
In a statement to Hong Kong’s official RTHK News, he alleged that the HKU “repeatedly ignored his attempts to contact them to try to work out how to move the sculpture elsewhere.”
“It is my private property and the sculpture belongs to me personally… so I have to demand that Hong Kong one take care of the sculpture. And I will claim compensation for any damage to the sculpture,” he said.
Spooked by mass anti-government agitation in 2019 that resulted in mass violence, Beijing imposed controversial national security law in Hong Kong last year.
Besides, it barred people in Hong Kong for the second consecutive year from holding any kind of remembrance of the 1989 events.
However, thousands defied the order in 2020 and turned out at Victoria Park, leading to authorities ramping up security measures this year.
This year, it also closed down the June 4th Museum built in memory of the Tiananmen victims.