A famous statue in Hong Kong commemorating people who were killed by Chinese authorities at Tiananmen Square in 1989 was dismantled late on Wednesday, the BBC reported.

On June 4, 1989, Chinese troops opened fire on their own people to suppress pro-democracy demonstrations in and around central Beijing’s Tiananmen Square. China has never provided a toll of the violence, but human rights groups and witnesses say it could run into thousands.

The eight-metre high statue, known as the “Pillar of Shame”, was installed at the campus of the University of Hong Kong in 1997. It was said to be among the few public memorials about the massacre in Hong Kong.

The statue shows 50 people in agony piled on top of each other, representing the pro-democracy protestors who were killed on that day.

On Thursday, officials of the university confirmed that the statue was removed and placed in storage. “The decision on the aged statue was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the University,” the university said, according to AFP.

The university added that it was “very concerned about the potential safety issues resulting from the fragile statue”.

Staff members reportedly used floor-to-ceiling sheets and barriers to hide the sculpture from view, and sounds of drilling and clanging metal were heard in the intervening night between Wednesday and Thursday.

Officials at the University of Hong Kong had ordered the removal of the structure in October.

Jens Galschiot, who had made the statue, told AFP that he will sue the university if it destroys the memorial. He said it was “strange” and “shocking” for the university to dismantle the statue, adding that it was his private property.

The sculptor said he had offered to take back the statue, and claimed that university officials did not inform him while dismantling it.

“This is a sculpture about dead people and [to] remember the dead people in Beijing in ‘89,” Galschiot told the BBC. “So when you destroy that in this way then it’s like going to a graveyard and destroying all the gravestones.”

China has been cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong after pro-democracy protests in the city in 2019.

The protests had initially been organised to oppose a Bill that would have allowed extraditions to China. They later evolved into a backlash against the city’s government and its political masters in Beijing.