University of Hong Kong Wants 'Pillar of Shame' to Go

Creator requests immunity from national security law to remove pro-democracy symbol
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 12, 2021 7:20 AM CST
'Pillar of Shame' Seems Set to Come Down in Hong Kong
The "Pillar of Shame" statue, a memorial for those killed in the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, is displayed at the University of Hong Kong on Oct. 13, 2021.   (AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File)

The Danish sculptor behind one of the last pro-democracy symbols in Hong Kong is asking authorities for legal protection so he can remove it at the request of the University of Hong Kong. The Pillar of Shame, a 26-foot-tall copper sculpture depicting torn and twisted bodies—created in honor of the pro-democracy protesters massacred during China's Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989—has stood in the entryway of the university since 1997. The university requested its removal in September, however, after nine people who organized vigils at the statue were sentenced to prison under a wide-ranging national security law adopted in July 2020, per France 24.

With its leadership arrested and property frozen, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, to which sculptor Jens Galschiot had loaned his sculpture in perpetuity, disbanded. The university then requested the Pillar—painted orange in 2008 to raise awareness about human rights abuses in mainland China—be removed. Galschiot says he's willing to oversee the removal before bringing the sculpture back to Denmark, per Reuters. But he first wants assurances that he and his helpers won't be prosecuted under a law that provides "legal basis for arresting foreign nationals who engage in activities that criticize China." The removal "will lead to activities and media coverage that could be perceived as criticism of China," he adds.

The university, which initially asked that the statue be moved by October, has not responded publicly, nor have Hong Kong authorities. Amid the uncertainty, a 3D model of the statue, valued at $1.4 million, has been created using photos and videos of it taken over the years. Sophie Mak, an HKU graduate living in Australia who was part of the 3D project, says "removing it is a way to whitewash history and suppress our collective memory, as the authorities are doing all across Hong Kong," per France 24. The outlet reports that once the Pillar is gone, a statue of the goddess of democracy at the Chinese University of Hong Kong will be the last monument honoring Tiananmen in the city. (More Hong Kong stories.)

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