January 26, 2022

a memorial statue of Tiananmen unbolted in a university

The “Pillar of Shame,” a statue honoring victims of the Tiananmen crackdown, has been removed from Hong Kong University (HKU) after 24 years at the scene, said Thursday (December 23rd). officials of the institution.

“The decision regarding the old statue was taken on the basis of an external legal opinion and a risk assessment for the best interest of the University”The HKU said in a statement, as groups and locations commemorating the June 4, 1989 crackdown became targets 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 has left its authoritarian mark on the former British colony after the large and sometimes violent protests of 2019, by imposing a national security law that bans, among other things, the commemoration of Tiananmen.

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In October, officials from the University of Hong Kong ordered the removal of the 8-meter-high sculpture, representing a tangle of fifty bodies deformed by pain, citing legal risks already, without citing which ones.

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A “shocking” act for its sculptor

The “Pillar of Shame” was put out of view on Wednesday behind tarpaulins and barriers before being unbolted Thursday morning to be stored elsewhere, according to the university. The institution ensures that no one had obtained formal authorization to exhibit this statue and cites a criminal order dating from the colonial era to justify its removal. This law includes the crime of sedition and has recently been increasingly used by authorities – alongside the new National Security Law – to criminalize dissent.

As workers bustled around the statue at night, the statue’s author, Dane Jens Galschiot, interviewed by Agence France-Presse (AFP), found “Strange” and “Shocking” that the university attack 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 “.

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Mr. Galschiot says he tried to contact the university with the help of lawyers and offered to resume his work. He also assures that HKU officials never contacted him or warned him of the dismantling of the statue. The artist sent an email to his supporters asking for “Document everything that can happen to the sculpture”.

The removal of the statue was decried by exiled pro-democracy activists, still very followed by their many subscribers on social networks. Nathan Law, a former elected pro-democracy refugee in the United Kingdom, assured that the statue will continue to live in people’s memory. “The #PillarOfShame has been removed, but the memory survives. We must remember what happened on June 4, 1989 ”, he tweeted.

Symbols of freedom of expression targeted

“Shame on the University of Hong Kong for destroying the history and collective memory of the Tiananmen Square massacre. You should be condemned to the pillar of shame ”, wrote Brian Leung, an exiled pro-democracy activist in the United States.

Wang Dan, one of the former student leaders of Tiananmen now living in the United States, was also outraged at the debacle, describing on Facebook. “A despicable act to try to erase this chapter of history stained with blood”.

Since Beijing’s grip, dissenting voices have gradually died down on Hong Kong campuses, once oases of freedom not subject to the censorship that permeates mainland Chinese faculties. Protests were banned, many student unions blacklisted, and new courses on the “National security” established.

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For 30 years, a candlelight vigil was held in Hong Kong for the anniversary of Tiananmen, bringing together tens of thousands of people. With its slogans for democracy, this meeting was a symbol of the freedom of expression enjoyed by the former British colony. Authorities have banned the last two vigils, citing the pandemic and security issues as reasons. The main organizers were arrested for subversion, and a museum on June 4, 1989 was closed.

The World with AFP