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Hong Kong University Dismantles Tiananmen Crackdown Memorial

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The 'Pillar of Shame' statue, a memorial for those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, is removed from the University of Hong Kong, Dec. 23, 2021.

A leading Hong Kong university dismantled and removed from campus Thursday a statue commemorating China’s 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square.

Students and onlookers gathered at University of Hong Kong on Thursday morning to contemplate the removal of a statue that stood in the campus for more than two decades.

University officials say the statue has been placed in storage.

The Council of HKU said in an early Thursday statement it made the decision to remove the statue during a Wednesday meeting, "based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the university."

The artwork of anguished human torsos, is one of the few remaining public memorials in the former British colony to remember the bloody crackdown that is a taboo topic in mainland China, where it cannot be publicly commemorated.

Known as the "Pillar of Shame," the statue was a key symbol of the wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong at its 1997 return to Chinese rule.

The sculptor, Jens Galschiot, told VOA he tried to negotiate with authorities to remove the statue intact so it could be taken to his native Denmark but was ignored.

He called the act “brutal” and said it was “destroying art,” and he lamented that Hong Kong is “getting more and more like China.”

China has never provided a full account of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown. Officials gave a death toll of about 300, but rights groups and witnesses say thousands may have been killed.

Authorities have been clamping down in Hong Kong under a China-imposed national security law that human rights activists say is being used to suppress civil society, jail democracy campaigners and curb basic freedoms.

Authorities say the law has restored order and stability after massive street protests in 2019. They insist freedom of speech and other rights remain intact and that prosecutions are not political.

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