Update on Nottingham “terror” arrest: A lying University will not be an “open and free arena for debate and dissent”

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This is a follow-up to the recent case at Nottingham University where the combination of misinformed, xenophobic colleagues, an administration without perspective and law making far beyond the rule of law led to the arrest and prolonged detainment of a student and staff and confiscation of their belongings simply for doing their job: finding, printing and investigating documents.

What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate and a sheepish, dependent and pathetic bunch of business administrators – jacks of all administrative trades, masters of no intellect – who call the anti terror cops on their own students and staff without reflection, without (reasonable) thought and with no sense of reality at all.

Colonos have just written to Alf Nilsen to clarify the exact meaning of the third last paragraph, which commences: “Fourthly, the claim that…” which appears to be written a bit too hastily or merely goes right over my head🙂

However, for now – here goes, see for yourself where it’s at:

Dear all – some of you may have written to the Registrar at the University of Nottingham, Dr. Paul Greatrix, to protest the recent false terror arrests at our university, and some of you might also have received a reply. My colleagues and I would like to point out a number of inconsistencies in this reply – see below, and as always: please circulate!!

Comments on University Communication on Recent Events

As concerned academics at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham who have been involved in the campaign for academic freedom and the release of Hicham Yezza in the wake of the false terror arrests at our university last week, we request that the Registrar, Dr. Paul Greatrix, amends the statement that he is currently circulating in response to letters of concern sent by academics from across the world to the University of Nottingham. The statement contains a number of inconsistencies, and we feel it necessary to point these out, both to Dr. Greatrix, and to the wider public.

Firstly, Dr. Greatrix seeks to label the coverage of the incident in the media, and in the Times Higher Education supplement in particular as inaccurate. However, all the evidence he provides for this claim are the two minor points that the administrative member of staff involved in this case was not working at the Department of Engineering, and that there was no armed response by the police during the arrests at the university. These facts, however, are in themselves irrelevant when compared to the fact that the academic freedom and civil liberties of a student and a member of staff have been grossly violated. Indeed, it should be noted that the Times Higher Education supplement was substantially correct in its coverage of the case. Finally, it should also be noted that the claim that there was an armed police response to the campus stems from the BBC news reports on the incident last week, which do not seem to have attracted a correction from the university.

Secondly, Dr. Greatrix claims that this was a low-level investigation. This claim, however, does not stand up to scrutiny. Students had their bags searched by uniformed police before entering the Trent Building the day after the arrests. The student and member of staff that was arrested was held from Wednesday May 14 until Tuesday, May 20 without charge, in spite of the fact that Rizwaan Sabir’s supervisor and personal tutor both confirmed to the police that the document they had downloaded and printed was legitimate research material on Friday, May 16. The homes of the two men were raided; they had their computers impounded and they have still not been returned; the family of Rizwaan Sabir was ejected from their home during the police’s search; several colleagues in the School of politics were interviewed for hours by the police. A low-key investigation would have resolved this matter within hours by contacting the relevant members of staff at the School of Politics and International Relations; indeed, a low-key investigation, to use Dr. Greatrix’s term, would have been conducted by the university itself, without any police involvement at all.

Thirdly, Dr. Greatrix claims that the university has contacted those involved in this matter to offer support and discuss the incident that took place. In fact, none of the staff members interviewed by the police have been contacted by the university with the offer of support. Moreover, the university has offered nothing in terms of official support or counsel to Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza, thus neglecting the welfare and well-being of its staff and students. To the extent that Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza have received support it has been from the members of staff and the students that Dr. Greatrix’s statement appear to be slurring.

Fourthly, the claim that the Times Higher Education supplement is wrong in its claim that the university does not deem the document that led to the arrests to be relevant research material is unconvincing. The university did in fact state that it deemed the document illegitimate, and only at a later stage retracted this and replaced with the modified statement that it was appropriate for academic members of staff to be in possession of such materials. This is of course in itself a deeply problematic argument, due to the simple fact that the material is available to the general public via perfectly respectable web-sites. We find it surprising that a university would express such disregard of the rights of engaged citizens to educate themselves on issues of public concern.

The conduct of the university in this matter stands in stark contrast to Dr. Greatrix’s claim that the university is committed to ensuring that its staff and students “are free to study and work in a safe, secure and tolerant environment” and that the university works towards ensuring “that everyone at Nottingham is able to enjoy freedom of speech and expression within the law”. In fact, the university has been deeply reluctant to enter into any kind of dialogue with students and staff that are concerned about the status of academic freedom and civil liberties.

It is clear to us, therefore, that the University of Nottingham will not be an “open and free arena for debate and dissent” until an apology is offered to Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza, and until the university guarantees the academic freedom, civil liberties and human rights of its staff and students.

Alf Nilsen
Bettina Renz
Vanessa Pupavac

Dr. Alf Gunvald Nilsen
RCUK Fellow, Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham
http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/cssgj/index.php
University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, England, UK

Mobile: (0044) (0) 7973332219

Office: (0044) (0) 1159514032

4 thoughts on “Update on Nottingham “terror” arrest: A lying University will not be an “open and free arena for debate and dissent”

    colono responded:
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 13:43 (613)

    It gets worse and worse:

    RESPONSE TO UNIVERSITY COMMUNICATIONS ABOUT RECENT EVENTS

    As concerned academics at the School of Politics and International Relations at the University of Nottingham among the many individuals who have been involved in the campaign for academic freedom and the release of Hicham Yezza in the wake of the false terror arrests at our university last week, we feel it necessary to comment on our concerns arising from the recent statement made by the university on its intranet portal (27/28 May 2008).

    We want first of all to emphasize once again that the Al Qaeda training manual is an open source document in the public domain, available on-line via respectable web sites including official web sites which appear on politics and international relations reading lists. A paperback version of the al Qaeda training manual is available from the on-line bookseller Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/Al-Qaeda-Training-Manual/dp/1414507100

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/Al-Qaeda-Training-Manual-1/dp/1414507100

    The University has been reluctant to accept that the possession of such material for academic studies or for non-academic interest by members of the public following current affairs is legitimate. Al Qaeda propaganda is researched and studied, for example, at the Institution for Communication Studies at the University of Leeds. The high street bookshop chain Waterstones sells the collected speeches, interviews and statements of Osama Bin Laden. The response of Nottingham University seems to have conflated having a document with holding extremist views and planning to act upon them, which is not what one would expect from an institution of higher learning and research.

    The idea that it was not appropriate for a non-academic member of staff to be in possession of the document should be considered in light of the fact that the document was openly available to the general public. The idea of inappropriateness suggests a narrow interpretation of intellectual freedom for those who are not authorised academics and registered students. University managers appear reluctant to concede that a non-academic might legitimately possess open source documents, here a former long-standing student writing regularly for student papers on current affairs and free speech. Citizen journalists and bloggers beware!

    Are the police the only appropriate investigating authority to determine whether it is acceptable for sensitive material to be held by a non-academic? The Nottingham response has serious implications here for academia and journalism, and public life more broadly in Britain. The idea has serious implications for the values we hold as a free, open and democratic society. These values encompassing freedom of speech and rational enquiry should not be treated cavalierly. These are the values that terrorists threaten and we should not lose sight of our special public responsibilities as members of a local, national and international academic community to affirm academic and intellectual freedom. If the academic community is weak in defending intellectual freedom and freedom of speech then it makes it harder for theses values to be defended in our society. Ironically Hicham Yezza has been one of the most vocal defenders of free speech on campus.

    Moreover, in terms of its duties of care to staff and students, the university’s way of handling this case, including its failure to offer substantial support and counselling for the student and member and staff who were arrested, suggests a cavalier attitude towards their welfare and well-being. An earlier statement by the university reassured us that the university was offering support to the affected individuals. However it is worrying that this public commitment does not appear to have translated into substantial support for the individuals arrested and other closely affected individuals. We encourage the university administration to demonstrate they are providing appropriate levels of support to the affected individuals and put right the inadequate support to date.

    The university’s claim that this was a low-level operation does not stand up to scrutiny. The student and member of staff who were arrested were held from Wednesday May 14 until Tuesday, May 20 without charge, in spite of the fact that Rizwaan Sabir’s supervisor and personal tutor both confirmed to the police that the document they had downloaded and printed was legitimate research material on Friday, May 16. The homes of the two men were raided; they had their computers impounded and they have still not been returned (as at the afternoon of Tuesday 27 May); Rizwaan Sabir’s family members were ejected from their home during the police’s search; several colleagues in the School of politics were interviewed for hours by the police. Students had their bags searched by uniformed police before entering the Trent Building the day after the arrests. Again, a low-level investigation would have resolved this matter within hours by doing a simple Google-search for the document in question and contacting the relevant members of staff at the School of Politics and International Relations.

    Please could the university clarify the sequence of events, because the university’s statement implies that the student was arrested at the scene, but we understand that the student was not arrested immediately at the scene, but later elsewhere at the university. The individuals were subsequently released without charge, including any charge related to impeding police investigations. The comment that the student who was arrested had tried to impede police investigations seems to be a thinly veiled attempt to slur the name of Rizwaan Sabir, who is held in extremely high regard both by fellow students and staff. We ask the university to retract this comment.

    The character of the police operation is a highly troubling aspect of this case. Is possession of the document in question sufficient to justify this scale of operation? This is an important question of public interest. Was there other evidence to justify this scale of operation? The police were informed by the student’s personal tutor and supervisor that the document in question was legitimate research material two days after the arrest. Was there other evidence following the statements from the personal tutor and supervisor to justify the continuing detention of the two? We are concerned that the university is not showing academic leadership on these extremely important questions for the academic community locally, nationally, and internationally, and for the democratic values that we are defending in our efforts to combat terrorist threats.

    The detention of the two arrested men for six days without charge only testifies to an overreaction from police authorities in this matter.

    In terms of the comments on the immigration status and employment eligibility status of Hicham Yezza, it is disappointing that the university appears to have disregarded an esteemed member of staff and former long-standing student and appears from the statement to be more concerned over the implications of the status of Hicham’s documentation for the university than for Hicham’s welfare. We hope that the university will refrain from an ungenerous approach towards its own member of staff, without full knowledge of the legal facts, and out of step with the sympathy expressed for Hicham’s plight by many members of the university community and elsewhere.

    The university keeps reiterating its commitment to academic freedom, yet this remains unconvincing in practice. Not least the university’s responses appear inadequate and unsupportive towards the individuals affected by the case. Hicham wanted his magazine Ceasefire to be ‘a beacon of intellectual thought’. He has contributed to a vibrant intellectual atmosphere on campus. In light of Hicham’s generous contribution to academic life here and the university’s ungenerous response to him, we can only pose the question to the university that Hicham Yezza asked us in his Spring 2008 editorial: “Do you believe in free speech? Do you believe in open debate?” If the university’s response to this is in the affirmative, it should offer an unconditional apology to Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza, and publicly guarantee the academic freedom, civil liberties and human rights of its staff and students.

    Andreas Bieler

    Sara Motta

    Alf Nilsen

    Vanessa Pupavac

    Matthew Rendall

    colono responded:
    Wednesday, May 28, 2008 at 16:24 (725)

    you can watch a video / Coverage of Demo here:

    http://www.itvlocal.com/central/news/

    And click “Go Local” then “Nottinghamshire” and then lastly “Protest over
    deportation of university worker”

    colono responded:
    Thursday, May 29, 2008 at 13:06 (588)
    colono responded:
    Friday, May 30, 2008 at 09:02 (418)

    You’ll find responses to the university statement here:

    http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/regions/nottinghamshire/2008/05/399622.html

    Basically the university is making up “inaccuracies” and covering up its
    role. The university had made the statement earlier in the week, reported
    th THES etc, that the document was not legitimate research material at all –
    and later backed down after the campaign became more vocal. The new concern
    that it was only that Hich wasn’t in a related department that caused
    concern is obvious falsehood – the university and police must have known the
    document was for Rizwaan since he was also arrested, and the university knew
    very well that Rizwaan was registered on relevant research. In any case, a
    “low-key” operation was certainly not what happened, and if this was simply
    a “good faith” mistake, then the two accused would have been out in a few
    hours, not held for a week and subjected to further raids etc.

    Media coverage has generally been supportive:

    http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/draconian-home-office-fasttracks-algerians-deportation-834031.html&cid=0&usg=AFrqEzdOyVumV0rMiBaAxhEhLU3cRLZXpg
    http://www.thenews.com.pk/print1.asp?id=115006
    http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2282045,00.html
    http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/world/5800914.html
    http://www.muslimnews.co.uk/news/news.php?article=14335
    http://canadianpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5iDyJQsNVJ85tRSsof-tBUFZV9vgg
    http://www2.irna.ir/en/news/view/line-20/0805249156174510.htm
    http://www.elkhabar.com/quotidienFrEn/lire.php?idc=129&ida=111643&key=3&cahed=1
    http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5jRUNxTB4I-UiIPgsBtKGsJNcZUGg
    http://www.juancole.com/2008/05/white-uk-deportation-of-yezza-orwellian.html
    http://chronicle.com/news/article/4558/britain-to-deport-scholar-who-downloaded-al-qaeda-guide-at-us-government-web-site
    http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2282482,00.html
    http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5huzhBGG4NWbp0-OvCAwreUKtbTHQ
    http://ukpress.google.com/article/ALeqM5jpdN_vBv1vuUo6-WhHFGd1HytBXw
    http://www.asianimage.co.uk/mostpopular.var.2302867.mostviewed.students_protest_at_deportation.php
    http://www.thefirstpost.co.uk/38548,features,how-the-war-on-terror-backfired
    http://education.guardian.co.uk/higher/news/story/0,,2282932,00.html?gusrc=rss&feed=8

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