The ‘Pillar of Shame’ statue at the University of Hong Kong, Oct. 10, 2021.

Photo: peter parks/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

Hong Kong officials desperately want the world to believe that the city is back to normal and better than ever. A search warrant quietly executed Friday morning at the University of Hong Kong proves otherwise.

The Hong Kong Police’s National Security Department seized a statue, “The Pillar of Shame,” which commemorates the victims of the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. In a news release Friday police described it as “an exhibit related to an ‘incitement to subversion’ case,” offering no further details.

The seizure comes as the Hong Kong Tourism Board is trying to lure back businesses and tourists. Its advertising campaign boasts that visitors can enjoy “innovative encounters at world-class museums and art venues.” Yet apparently only Communist Party-approved art will be on display, while allegedly subversive art is now potentially a criminal offense.

Danish artist

Jens Galschiøt
had for years allowed the University of Hong Kong to display “The Pillar of Shame” on campus while still retaining ownership of the artwork. The artist has described the sculpture as “a litmus test of the authorities’ vow to respect human rights and free speech in Hong Kong.”

After Beijing imposed a national-security law that makes dissent a crime, Hong Kong University hauled the statue off campus in October 2021. Until Friday the artwork had been “locked inside a steel container” that remained under constant surveillance, according to Mr. Galschiøt.

The artist has sought to recover the statue, and he says he hired a lawyer to facilitate the process and arranged a shipping company. He provided extensive details about how the University of Hong Kong has ignored and stonewalled him. It’s “pure Kafka,” Mr. Galschiøt told me. “China is pulling the strings.” The university didn’t respond to my inquiry about Mr. Galschiøt’s efforts to recover the statue.

Ann Kerr,
chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, recently appeared in a promotional video in which she claimed “the city is built for business with capital, people, network efficiency and [a] sound legal system.” Hong Kong’s handling of the “The Pillar of Shame” belies that spin.

Police in the city have taken Mr. Galschiøt’s property without due process, citing the national-security law. The seizure comes after Hong Kong authorities also forced the closing of Apple Daily and seized the pro-democracy newspaper’s assets without due process. Its founder,

Jimmy Lai,
faces national-security charges that could bring a life prison term. Who knows what would happen to Mr. Galschiøt if he tried to collect his work in person?

The Hong Kong Tourism Board insists the city is “ready to welcome visitors from all around the world once again with open arms and open doors.” The real question is whether property, businesses or even visitors will be allowed to leave.

Ms. Melchior is a London-based member of the Journal editorial board.