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Hong Kong university covers up Tiananmen crackdown tribute

Hong Kong's oldest university on Saturday covered a painted slogan commemorating China's Tiananmen Square crackdown, as Beijing continues to muzzle dissent in the financial hub.

About a dozen construction workers erected grey metal construction hoardings around the so-called martyrs' slogan, news agencies reported, citing their reporters on the scene.

What is the martyrs' slogan?

The 20-meter (65-foot) long graffiti was painted across the length of the University of Hong Kong's (HKU) Swire bridge.

It was created by HKU students shortly after the deadly 1989 crackdown on students and democracy activists in Beijing.

Rights groups say thousands of people were killed when troops forcibly suppressed six weeks of protests in the Chinese capital by opening fire on civilians. Chinese officials have given a death toll of about 300.

Painted in Chinese characters on the pavement, the message read: "The souls of the martyrs shall forever linger despite the cold-blooded massacre. The spark of democracy shall forever glow for the demise of evil."

Why is the boarding up significant?

Hong Kong was the only place in China where mass remembrance of Tiananmen was tolerated, unlike the mainland where it is a taboo topic and censored.

Students have made it a tradition to repaint the slogan on the bridge before the anniversary of the crackdown.

But amid a wider crackdown on Hong Kong by Beijing in the wake of the 2019 pro-democracy protests, authorities have driven such activities underground.

For the past two years, an annual candlelight vigil in memory of the Tiananmen victims has been banned.

Leaders of the now-disbanded group organizing the vigil have been charged with subversion, and authorities have shut down a museum formerly run by the group.

Several other memorials removed

HKU last month removed a famous statue commemorating the victims of the massacre.

The university said the decision was "based on external legal advice and risk assessment for the best interest of the University."

At least two other local universities removed artworks in public areas marking the crackdown that same week.

Hong Kong's universities, ranked among the best in Asia, had long been free of the political censorship that pervades mainland campuses.

But Beijing has begun remolding Hong Kong in its own image and in 2020, introduced a draconian new security law in the city.

Some foreign governments, including Germany and the United States, say the new law is being used to suppress civil society, jail democracy campaigners and silence dissent.

Authorities say the new rules have restored order and stability after the massive street protests.

mm/aw (AFP, Reuters)