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Courtesy of NCinDC

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The fight for freedom of expression emerged on American University’s campus Tuesday after the university removed the statue of Native American activist Leonard Peltier, which had been erected on campus less than a month earlier, according to the Washington Post.

The statue of Peltier was intended to highlight indigenous issues. Peltier has spent over 50 years in prison for allegedly killing two F.B.I. agents, but claims he acted in self-defense. An unveiling ceremony took place on Dec. 9 and was listed as one of several events during a week dedicated to promoting advocacy for indigenous rights and clemency for Peltier.

Several students objected, with one describing the sculpture on Twitter as “a 9-ft cop killer,” according to the Washington Post. The FBI formally requested that American University remove the statue and portray a more balanced account of the legal case. The university promptly obliged.

“The subject matter and placement of the piece improperly suggested that American University has assumed an advocacy position of clemency for Mr. Peltier,” a statement issued by the university said, according to the Post, “when no such institutional position has been taken.”

The removal of the statue sparked backlash among students who claim the university’s action is an infringement on their right of freedom of expression. The artist of the sculpture even solicited Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, a constitutional lawyer, to send a formal letter to the university.

“The removal of this political work of art is an extreme and particularly shameful example of censorship of political expression,” Verheyden-Hilliard said. “American University is supposed to be a bastion of academic freedom.”

James Reynolds, a top prosecutor on Peltier’s legal case in 1975, wrote to President Barack Obama requesting that Obama grant Peltier clemency before his final days in office. Reynolds and many others who support a reduced prison sentence for Peltier still await Obama’s decision.