In a statement, the council said the decision to remove the ‘aged’ sculpture “was based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the University.”
“Latest legal advice given to the University cautioned that the continued display of the statue would pose legal risks to the University based on the Crimes Ordinance enacted under the Hong Kong colonial government,” it added.
Security barriers were erected around the statue overnight, as loud construction noises emanated from within.
An RTHK reporter saw many workers at the scene early on Thursday morning, and witnessed a large wrapped package being moved on to a container at around 4am. This was removed from campus later in the morning.
The eight-metre-tall copper artwork that featured faces and bodies piled on top of each other has stood at the university since 1997.
However, the university council said not only was the work not supposed to be there, it is now “very concerned” about the potential safety issues resulting from what it called the “fragile statue”.
“No party has ever obtained any approval from the University to display the statue on campus, and the University has the right to take appropriate actions to handle it at any time,” it stressed.
HKU had tried for months to remove the sculpture, but was dealt a setback when US-based law firm Mayer Brown stopped representing it in October.
HKU Council chairman Arthur Li had said on Sunday the university was still trying to sort out who owns the statue.
Jens Galschiøt, the Danish sculptor who created and put up the statue, has claimed ownership of the work, saying all these years it has simply been on loan to the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China.
He expressed shock at the apparent dismantling of the work.
In a statement, he said HKU has repeatedly ignored his attempts to contact them to try to work out how to move the sculpture elsewhere.
“It is my private property and the sculpture belongs to me personally… so I have to demand that Hong Kong one take care of the sculpture. And I will claim compensation for any damage to the sculpture,” he said.
The HKU Council said the statue would be placed in storage while authorities continue to seek legal advice on the appropriate follow-up action.