Northern Ireland news

Chinese Consulate put pressure on Belfast council to pull Tiananmen Square exhibition photo

The Chinese Consulate in south Belfast, and right, the image of Tiananmen Square at Belfast City Hall, which the consulate put pressure on the city council to remove
Brendan Hughes

THE Chinese Consulate in south Belfast put pressure on the city council to remove an image of Tiananmen Square from a public art exhibition.

The iconic image – a lone protester in front of a convoy of military tanks in Beijing – was among several displayed on the front lawns at city hall during last year's Belfast Photo Festival.

It has since emerged that the consulate complained to council officials and pressed for its removal.

The photograph was not removed, although it is understood the exhibition was scheduled to end a short time after the matter was raised.

A council spokesman said: "We received a complaint in June 2019 in relation to a photograph in the Double Take exhibition, part of the Belfast Photographic Festival, on the front lawns of Belfast City Hall. The photograph was not removed."

The Chinese Consulate did not respond to requests for a comment.

The Tiananmen Square image was taken during large-scale protests in 1989 which were crushed by China's Communist rulers, with many people killed.

Human rights organisation Amnesty International condemned the "censorship" attempt.

Northern Ireland programme director Patrick Corrigan said: "It is outrageous that the Chinese Consulate apparently sought to have the photograph, commemorating the brave students of 1989, removed from the grounds of Belfast City Hall.

"The image of unarmed man versus tank has come to symbolise the struggle of the Tiananmen movement – peaceful protest met with military might.

"The state censorship of Beijing cannot be extended to Belfast."

SDLP councillor Séamas de Faoite also expressed concern.

"Last July I raised during a council meeting the need for Belfast to have an ethical trading policy. Our global partners should meet the same human rights expectations we place on ourselves," he said.

"I am deeply concerned that any of Belfast's partners would attempt to curb free and fair expression in our city, particularly one which has sought to quieten any discussion of the systematic repression of the Uyghur people in the Xinjiang province, or the erosion of democracy in Hong Kong."

The Double Take exhibition, by Zurich-based artists Jojakim Cortis and Adrian Sonderegger, displayed images of three-dimensional models depicting photographs of globally significant events.

Mr Cortis said he had heard unofficially some months after the exhibition about the consulate's intervention, but was pleased the council did not remove the image.

"We have never heard that by the organisation of the festival. But the city haven't moved it as we heard. So they did it right," he said.

Belfast Photo Festival said it promotes the photographic arts "as a way to challenge audiences, to inform and to be a catalyst for open dialogue on a variety of matters".

Details of the complaint emerged amid an escalating diplomatic row over the consulate on Malone Road building a perimeter wall without planning permission.

A planning enforcement investigation is continuing and the council has raised the dispute with the British foreign office.

Read More: The 'ring of steel'

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