Hong Kong police seized an exhibit on Friday, May 5, in connection with what they said was an attempt to incite subversion, with media reporting it was the notorious ‘Pillar of Shame.’
Media reported the exhibit was the Pillar of Shame, an 8-meter (26-foot) tall pillar consisting of 50 warped and garbled bodies stacked on each other. It symbolizes the thousands of lives lost during the Chinese Communist Party’s bloody crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Police did not provide further details of the exhibit they said they had seized in the Yuen Long district of the former British colony.
“The National Security Department … conducted searches with a warrant this morning. An exhibit related to an ‘incitement to subversion’ case was seized,” police said in a statement.
Confuse the public
On Saturday (May 6), a Hong Kong Security Bureau spokesperson claimed that some organizations had attempted to “confuse the public, demand the return of relevant evidence under the guise of artistic freedom, and unreasonably condemn and maliciously smear” the legitimate actions of the police.
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The office did not name any individual, nor did the statement call any organizations suspected of inciting subversion using the statue, which had been dismantled and stored up for over a year.
The seizure comes weeks before the June 4 anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.
Until two years ago, a massive outdoor candlelight vigil was held every year in Hong Kong on June 4 to mourn the casualties of the massacre, which occurred in 1989 when martial law troops of the CCP’s military gunned down hundreds, maybe thousands of peaceful demonstrators rallying for more civil rights and democracy.
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The crackdown is taboo in the rest of China, and Hong Kong authorities have outlawed the last two annual vigils, citing COVID-19 risks.
The pillar was erected in Hong Kong at the 1997 edition of the annual candlelight vigil — the same year Britain handed the city back to China — to commemorate the victims of the 1989 massacre.
In 2021, HKU dismantled and removed the statue “based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the university’s best interest.” It has since been kept in a cargo container on university-owned land.
Danish sculptor Jens Galschiøt, who created the work, said he had yet to be informed about its seizure by police.
“This is outrageous. This is my sculpture and nobody has consulted or informed me about anything,” he said in an email response to Reuters.
But even though the artist was saddened by the ruthless going about with his brainchild, he still takes courage of the fact that art itself is such a powerful tool to make a statement and can stir so many commotions.
“Though I am deeply touched that the Pillar is used this way in Hong Kong, the events confirm the that symbolic language of art cannot be crushed, and only gets stronger when attacked,” Galschiøt said in a press statement.
“The Pillar of Shame and talks about the June 4th massacre hasn’t been more present than now,’ the artist added. “Hong Kong (China!) took down the pillar but got a 1000 back. It appears as 3D prints worldwide, as AI and as banners,” Galschiøt said, pointing out that down-scaled artwork models are in high demand among freedom lovers all over China.
Crimes against national security
According to the city government, a portion of Victoria Park, where the rally usually takes place, will be closed this week.
The Hong Kong Alliance, which organized the vigil, was disbanded in 2021 after its leaders were detained and accused of inciting subversion in violation of a national security law China imposed in the wake of anti-government protests in 2020.
The authorities have used the law to repress pro-democracy activity in Hong Kong. Approximately 250 people have been detained for alleged crimes against national security, including opposition politicians, attorneys, and journalists.
Reuters contributed to this report.