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Protesters attack a van that apparently tried to drive at them near a blocked road in Hong Kong last month. Chinese state media has ramped up its propaganda against demonstrators in the city. Photo: AP

Chinese state broadcaster uses Holocaust poem to liken Hong Kong protesters to Nazis

  • CCTV tweets adapted version of ‘First They Came …’ claiming demonstrators ‘trampled freedom of the press’ and ‘seized and tortured the drivers’
  • Original, by German pastor Martin Niemoller, is about the moral cowardice of intellectuals who didn’t act to stop the persecution of minority groups

Chinese state broadcaster CCTV has posted an adapted version of the famous Holocaust poem First They Came … on Twitter, likening Hong Kong’s anti-government protesters to Nazis intent on attacking the city’s residents.

The poem, posted on Saturday to an account with more than 775,000 followers, claimed that protesters had “trampled the freedom of the press” and “seized and tortured the drivers”.

The original version of the poem, written by German pastor Martin Niemoller and popularised after World War II, is about the moral cowardice of German intellectuals who did not act to stop Nazi persecution of minority groups based on their political and religious views.

It has also been interpreted as a warning against the creeping political apathy that led to the horrors of the Holocaust. Versions of it are displayed at the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington and the Holocaust memorial Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

More recently, protesters in the US have held placards at rallies that use the poem to refer to US President Donald Trump’s verbal attacks on minority groups including women, disabled people, Muslims, African-Americans and immigrants.

Many Twitter users from Hong Kong and elsewhere were angered by the state broadcaster’s tweet, saying the poem had been used in a highly inappropriate context.

One Twitter user, Marina Rudyak, responded: “Please CCTV, don’t misappropriate this text. Neither the author nor the historical context deserve it. It was written as a statement of the powerless to the powerful. Hong Kong police is powerful. The Legislative Council is powerful. The CCP is powerful. So please, don’t.”

Writer Frankie Huang said: “How dare they hijack and sully these famous words?? This is disgusting.”

In recent days, Chinese state media has ramped up its anti-protest propaganda on English-language social media channels such as Twitter, which is blocked in mainland China.

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On Saturday, CCTV’s English-language arm, CGTN, posted a Chinese rap song directed at anti-government protesters who for months have taken to the streets of Hong Kong. The demonstrations were triggered by a now-shelved extradition bill that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to mainland China.

The rap song’s lyrics, with English subtitles, suggested that American forces were behind the protests, and compared demonstrators to terrorists in the Middle East:

Once I heard you be found in the Middle East / People were throwing bombs across the city streets … / Now you be found in Hong Kong.

The Hong Kong Jewish Community Centre and the United Jewish Congregation of Hong Kong, as well as several synagogues in the city, have been contacted for comment.