- The University of Hong Kong removed the "Pillar of Shame" statue from its campus.
- The sculpture stood for over two decades as a reminder of the victims of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
- Its removal marks another step in China's crackdown on free speech and political dissent.
A famous statue at the University of Hong Kong that for more than two decades stood as a memorial to the protestors at the Tiananmen Square massacre has been removed, the university said Wednesday.
The University of Hong Kong's council decided on the removal "based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the University," the institution said in a statement.
The 26-foot-tall "Pillar of Shame" depicts 50 twisted human torsos, commemorating those killed in the bloody crackdown at Tiananmen Square in Beijing on June 4, 1989. The phrase "The old cannot kill the young forever" is carved into the statue's base.
Jens Galschiøt, the Danish artist who created the statue, called it a reminder of "a shameful event which must never reoccur." He sculpted the Pillar of Shame in 1997, the same year that Hong Kong was returned to China from the UK.
Galschiøt told The BBC that the removal was "really brutal," comparing it to the destruction of gravestones, and added he might consider suing the university and authorities. Galschiøt did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.
The statue's clearance marks yet another step in Beijing's crackdown on dissent and free speech, particularly in Hong Kong, where police quelled mass protests in 2019 arrested pro-democracy newspaper staff. Last year, China introduced a new sweeping law in Hong Kong that was touted as an anti-terrorism and security rule but has been criticized as a broad means to curb protests and diminish the city's autonomy.
More than 28 civil society and activist groups lobbied to keep the Pillar of Shame — one of the last few tributes to the massacre remaining in Hong Kong — when the University of Hong Kong demanded it be removed in October.
"No party has 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 council said in its Wednesday statement.
The university also said it was concerned about "safety issues," describing the Pillar of Shame as a "fragile statue."
At midnight on Thursday, yellow construction barriers were set up around the copper statue, and construction workers dismantled it, CNN reported. The BBC's Grace Tsoi said that she could hear drilling and cracking but that journalists on the scene couldn't see what was happening.
The statue has been put in storage, the university said in its statement.
Hundreds of peaceful demonstrators, many of who were students, were slain in the Tiananmen Square massacre when the Chinese government sent in troops and tanks to quash protests in 1989.
China has vigilantly censored any mention of the massacre in media outlets and social media platforms, but a mass candlelit vigil is held on its anniversary in Hong Kong's Victoria Park every year.
The University of Hong Kong did not immediately respond to Insider's request for comment.