A dozen students from a top Chinese university staged a protest Friday after the school removed the president of an on-campus Marxist group amid an ongoing crackdown on student activists this year.

The students gathered in an open area in front of an academic building where they held up signs and shouted slogans protesting the change in the society’s leadership.

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A group of students hold up signs as they protest against the change in a student-run Marxist group’s leadership at Peking University in Beijing on December 28, 2018. Photo: Eva Xiao/AFP.

But security moved in almost immediately and started pulling students away, forcing some to the ground while others were pushed towards a waiting black car.

“Today, students of the Peking University Marxist Society who were holding signs and protesting were forcibly corrected,” the group said in a statement.

“Security personnel used violence to disperse students, who were pulled into the school building, many students were injured!”

Peking University did not immediately respond to AFP’s request for comment.

The university said Thursday that it “restructured” the student-run Marxist group, replacing core members and student leaders, including former president Qiu Zhanxuan, with their own picks.

Many of the 32 new members are from the Communist Youth League or the Communist Party.

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Peking University. Photo: Wikicommons.

The move came one day after Qiu was detained by police for “disturb(ing) the public order” on campus by singing and holding slogans.

An eyewitness told AFP that Qiu was arrested for attempting to commemorate the 125th birth anniversary of Mao Zedong, whose legacy in China remains controversial.

Though President Xi Jinping has called for a refocusing on Communist roots — including a May speech which called for Marxism to be promoted in campuses and classrooms — Beijing is increasingly wary of student-run Marxist societies, especially those that try to apply theory to practice.

Over the summer, when university students joined efforts to organise a labour union for factory workers in southern Guangdong province, Chinese authorities flew into action.

In August, a police raid swept up the student activists, beating several of them and confiscating their phones, according to the Jasic Workers Solidarity group, a labour rights organisation that the students joined.

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Xi Jinping. Photo: CCTV screenshot.

Several of them, including Yue Xin, a Peking University graduate who became known after co-authoring a petition demanding details of a sexual abuse case at the school, have not been heard from since.

“From the detention of the student supporters of the Jasic workers to the crackdown on the students who are supporters of Marxism, we can see the irony of how the Chinese government is treating these young and devout advocates of Marxism,” Patrick Poon, China researcher at Amnesty International told AFP.

“It shows that the government can’t even tolerate any dissenting opinions, from liberal to Marxist views.”

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