That came after the university ordered the now-defunct Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China to remove the seven-meter statue from the campus by Wednesday.

Galschiot said the statue could suffer "irreparable damage" if it was not handled by experts. He said he had been in the dark about the university's order, and only learned about it when media contacted him.

The artist branded the order as a new means to obscure the crackdown's memories. He hoped international art institutions could do something following the statue's removal.

He said he was the rightful owner of the statue, even though he had allowed the university and alliance to co-manage the statue.

Last Thursday, the university in a letter asked the alliance it to remove the statue by Wednesday 5pm at the latest. It warned if the alliance failed to comply, the statue would be deemed abandoned.

"The university will not consider any future request from you in respect of the sculpture," it said, "and the it will deal with the sculpture at such time and in such manner as it thinks fit without further notice."

The alliance's liquidator Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong said it was unreasonable for the university to order the alliance to remove the statue within such a short time frame.

He said as a space for freedom of speech and academia, the university had the social responsibility and mission to preserve the statue.

Speaking on the statue's ownership, Tsoi said he respected the fact that it belonged to Galschiot.

The statue was first erected in the HKU campus in June 1997, a week before the handover. It was then permanently relocated to the HKU campus next year.