The Hong Kong government has said that “rights and freedoms are not absolute” after several local universities tore down Tiananmen Massacre monuments within the space of 48 hours.

The Goddess of Democracy image at Lingnan University – before and after. Photo: Photo: Lingnan University Student Union Press Bureau.

The University of Hong Kong removed the Pillar of Shame statue in the early hours of Thursday morning whilst students were on break. It cited safety issues and legal advice in a statement, and also referenced the Crimes Ordinance “under the Hong Kong colonial government.” The incident has sparked international criticism.

The CUHK Goddess of Democracy. Photo: HKFP.

The Chinese University removed the Tiananmen Massacre Goddess of Democracy statue the next day, claiming its erection in 2010 was “unauthorised.” Meanwhile, Lingnan University removed a relief dedicated to the June 4 crackdown citing legal and safety concerns.

The Goddess of Democracy on CUHK campus – before and after. Use your mouse to slide horizontally. Photo: HKFP.

Responding to HKFP as to whether it backed the universities’ move, a government spokesperson declined to comment on individual cases, but said: “Various rights and freedoms are guaranteed under the Basic Law. However, these rights and freedoms are not absolute. In particular, any person exercising the right to freedom of expression or the right of peaceful assembly should respect the rights of others, and should not compromise public order and public safety, etc., while doing so. “

The Pillar of Shame at the University of Hong Kong – before and after. Use your mouse to slide horizontally. Photo: HKFP.

On the question as to whether the annual June 4 commemorative vigil would be allowed to legally resume after Covid-19 restrictions were lifted, the government spokesperson did not give a direct response. However, they said that Covid-19 social distancing rules should be respected and “[t]he exercise of such rights by the public in future will need to have due regard to then prevailing relevant facts and circumstances.”

It has been banned for two years, and its organisers arrested, with the government citing Covid-19 regulations.

When asked if there was any legal risk involved in displaying the monuments, the police said they would “not comment on individual cases. In conducting any operation, the Police will act on the basis of actual circumstances and according to the law.”

The Lingnan Tiananmen Massacre relief – before and after. Use your mouse to slide horizontally. Photo: Lingnan University Students’ Union Press Bureau.

The Tiananmen crackdown occurred on June 4, 1989 ending months of student-led demonstrations in China. It is estimated that hundreds, perhaps thousands, died when the People’s Liberation Army cracked down on protesters in Beijing.

The office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam did not respond to HKFP’s enquires.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications and New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Al-Jazeera and others.