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Pillar of Shame sculpture seized by police in Hong Kong

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A sculpture marking the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre in Beijing has been seized by Hong Kong police. Artist Jens Galschiot pillar of shame (1997) depicting a mass of deformed bodies, was removed from the University of Hong Kong campus in December 2021. The work was installed in 1997 shortly before the UK ceded power to the former colony to China; the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square event is June 4th.

The Hong Kong government issued a statement on Saturday May 6 stating that “the National Security Department of the Hong Kong Police has conducted searches [on 5 May] with a warrant and seized an exhibit relating to a case of “incitement to subversion” under the national security law”. Galschiøt’s work is not named in the statement.

According to South China Morning Post, the artwork was taken from the Kadoorie Center in Yuen Long, an agricultural research center run by the university, on May 5. Galschiøt claims the sculpture was seized by “the police as evidence against the democracy movement in Hong Kong”.

THE National Security Act, introduced in June 2020, criminalizes acts of secession, subversion of the state, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Violators could be jailed for life. It was drafted by Beijing, bypassing the Hong Kong legislature. The Hong Kong government has pointed out that freedom of speech is well protected by the Basic Law (the Special Administrative Region’s mini-constitution) and that the National Security Law only applies to “a small number of cases”.

The Czech activist organization NGO DEI is campaigning for the return of the Galschiøt sculpture and has subsequently launched a petition. A spokesperson for the organization says The arts journal that he plans to contact the Hong Kong government and “insist that Jens is the rightful owner of the pillar; we will ask for an explanation of the situation and need the pillar of shame to be returned to the owner… we don’t let them keep, hide and throw away [Galschiøt’s] private property.”

The Hong Kong government statement (6 May) also “strongly condemned a [unnamed] organization for making seriously unfounded allegations against a police operation in the collection of evidence…Hong Kong law enforcement is required to bring to justice persons and entities acting in violation of Hong Kong laws, including including national security law.

The spokesperson for the NGO DEI adds: “We hereby declare that the government not only limits the freedom of artists but also sets a new low point for freedom in Hong Kong. Hong Kong should be a culturally diverse and open place that respects artistic freedom.

Hong Kong government officials did not respond to a request for further comment.

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