Hong Kong activist Nathan Law has staged a protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Rome, along with other activists and European parliamentarians, after the University of Hong Kong moved to remove a monument to the 1989 Tiananmen Massacre.

“It is a statement about the atrocity and the massacre that the Chinese Communist Party did to its people, its [crushing] of democratic pursuit, and the pursuits of its people to decide the future of their own country,” the self-exiled Law said through a loudspeaker outside the embassy next to a three-metre replica of the statue on Wednesday.

pillar nathan
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP and Twitter Screenshot.

The protest follows recent efforts to remove the statue, known as the Pillar of Shame, from the campus and fears it will be destroyed. Law is reportedly “wanted” by the Hong Kong authorities, according to state media, though they have refused to confirm it.

A replica statue by the monument’s original creator, Danish artist Jens Galschiøt, had been driven from Denmark to Rome for the rally, according to UK rights activist Luke de Pulford.

Uyghur rights activist Rahima Mahmut, Italy’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs Giulio Terzi, and European members of parliament also attended Wednesday’s protest. Dovilė Šakalienė, a Lithuanian parliamentarian who has been sanctioned by Beijing, attempted to hand a letter into the embassy with the group’s demands.

The University of Hong Kong in early October demanded that the now-defunct group which organised yearly candlelight vigils commemorating the massacre, the Hong Kong Alliance, remove the statue within five days. The demand caused a row which saw the university’s legal representative, Mayer Brown, withdraw from the case amid international pressure.

Galschiøt has since asserted his ownership of the monument, launching an international campaign to save the statue and relocate it abroad. The statue still stands at the university, which has vowed to deal with the matter in a “legal and reasonable” manner.

Pillar of Shame

The Pillar of Shame, an eight-metre tall statue of bodies twisting towards the sky, has stood at the university’s Pok Fu Lam campus for 24 years. Activists and students held annual ceremonies to wash the pillar to commemorate the victims of Beijing’s bloody crackdown on protesters in the summer of 1989.

Tiananmen Square Massacre Pillar of Shame
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Efforts to remove the statue from the campus have prompted critics to decry shrinking freedoms in Hong Kong, with one warning of a “political purge” at universities.

YouTube video

The Tiananmen Massacre on June 4, 1989 ended months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people died when the People’s Liberation Army was deployed to crack down on protesters in Beijing.

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Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.