The authorities in Hong Kong on Thursday removed a statue that memorialized those killed in the 1989 government massacre of pro-democracy demonstrators in Beijing, the latest crackdown on political dissent in the Chinese territory.
The 26-foot copper statue, known as the “Pillar of Shame,” was created by the Danish sculptor Jens Galschiot in 1996 and shows a pile of naked corpses arranged into what looks like a ghastly obelisk. It commemorates the June 4, 1989, massacre of pro-democracy students and workers around Tiananmen Square by the Chinese government.
The Tiananmen massacre is among the most delicate topics in Chinese politics and has been largely erased from history on the Chinese mainland. But for more than two decades, Mr. Galschiot’s statue was a symbol of the pro-democracy movement in a territory that enjoyed freedoms unimaginable in the mainland.
In 1997, weeks before Britain returned the territory to Chinese control, the statue was shipped to Hong Kong and exhibited at an annual candlelight vigil for Tiananmen victims, according to the Hong Kong Free Press, a local news organization. It was later moved to the campus of the University of Hong Kong.
For years, students would gather to wash the statue in a ceremony. And amid the fires and fury of the pro-democracy protests that engulfed the territory in 2019, the statue formed part of the backdrop as protesters set up barricades in a standoff with the police.
The statue’s removal early Thursday is part of a crackdown in which Beijing has used an expansive national security law that it imposed on Hong Kong last year to prosecute activists and roll back civil liberties.
In July, a Hong Kong court convicted a protester of terrorism and inciting secession. And in September, the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, the activist group that helped bring the “Pillar of Shame” to the territory in 1997, was forced to scrub its online presence.
As workers removed the statue before dawn, journalists at the scene reported that the police had blocked off the area.
Mr. Galschiot, the statue’s creator, had previously tried in vain to get permission to remove it himself — along with a guarantee that he would not be prosecuted under the security law if he came to Hong Kong to do so — after the university demanded that it be taken away.
On Thursday, he followed along in real time on social media as the statue was removed, expressing his disbelief.