HONG KONG CITY - The University of Hong Kong (HKU) has fired veteran pro-democracy activist Benny Tai from his tenured position as an associate professor of law, a move he called "the end of academic freedom" in the Chinese-ruled territory.

Without mentioning Tai by name, the university said in a statement that it reached the decision "through a proper and lengthy process", but one prominent pro-democracy observer warned on Wednesday that "without a free and independent" group of academic institutions, Hong Kong would "degenerate into a second rate city".

Tai was a leading figure in Hong Kong's 2014 "Umbrella" protests, which paralysed the city for 79 days as demonstrators took over major roads to demand greater democracy.

He was sentenced to 16 months in prison last year for two public nuisance offences, but released on bail pending an appeal - a conviction that prompted HKU to begin reviewing his position.

Tuesday's decision by the governing council reversed an earlier decision by the university senate that there were not enough grounds for a dismissal.

According to the Hong Kong Free Press, the university council voted 18-2 to remove Tai.

"It marks the end of academic freedom in Hong Kong," Tai wrote on Facebook. FA)