I have just received this from a colleague based in the UK.
From: Nilsen Alf [mailto:Alf.Nilsen@nottingham.ac.uk]
Sent: Thu 5/22/2008 15:56
Subject: Student and Staff arrests at Nottingham University – Please Circulate!!!
Dear Friends – I’m writing to call your attention to a recent incident at the University of Nottingham, where a one of our Graduate Students at the School of Politics and International Relations and an administrative member of staff at the Department of Engineering were arrested by armed police under the Terrorism Act of 2000. Their alleged “crime” was that the graduate student had downloaded an Al-Qaeda training manual from a US government website for research purposes, as he’s writing his MA dissertation on Islamic extremism and international terrorist networks. He had then sent this to his friend in the Department of Engineering for printing. The printed material had been spotted by other staff and reported to the University authorities who passed on the information to the police. The two were then arrested by armed police on May 14 and held for six days without charge, before being released without charge on May 20. During the six days they were imprisoned, the men had their homes raided and their families harassed by the police. It is worth noticing that in talking to one of my colleagues, a police officer remarked that the incident would never have occurred if the persons involved had been “blonde, Swedish PhD students” (the two men were of British-Pakistani and Algerian backgrounds respectively).
The incident was recently reported in the Times Higher Education Supplement online:
Needless to say, this raises hugely important issues both about academic freedom and civil liberties. Obviously, there is the issue that for those of us involved in research on contentious issues we will by necessity have to consult primary materials of a controversial nature, and the fact that the material is controversial should not lead to it being deemed as illegitimate research material. Moreover, we should not under any circumstances have to fear for infringements upon our civil liberties as a consequence of doing our jobs. Moreover, it goes without saying that the university should guarantee the academic freedom, freedom of speech and expression, and civil liberties of all members of staff and students, irrespective of ethnic and religious background or political beliefs!
I would be most grateful if you could circulate this e-mail as widely as possible in the interest of raising awareness and attention about this incident and the wider issues of academic freedom that it gives rise to, to as many of your friends and colleagues as possible! I would of course also be very grateful if any of you would be willing to write to the University of Nottingham to express your concern about this issue. If you are willing to do so, please contact me as soon as possible.
Dr. Alf Gunvald Nilsen
RCUK Fellow, Centre for the Study of Social and Global Justice, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Nottingham
University Park, Nottingham, NG7 2RD, England, UK
Mobile: (0044) (0) 7973332219
Office: (0044) (0) 1159514032
———– Message 2:
Staff and Students are demonstrating against the attacks on academic freedom at the University of Nottingham 28/05/08 Please circulate as widely as possible!!!!
From a group of concerned students and academics at the University of Nottingham.
For immediate use, 23/05/08 FRIDAY
Academics and students demonstrate: Public reading of research material that lead to terror arrests.
Outside the Hallward Library, University Park Campus, 2:00pm, 28/05/08. Academics from the University of Nottingham will be doing a public reading of the research material that lead to the ‘terror arrests’ on campus last week. The reading will be followed by a silent protest to the Trent Building. There will be hundreds of students present with banners and placards, many who will gag themselves symbolically to object to the attack on academic freedom.
A student and member of staff were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000 on Wednesday 14th May, after university authorities contacted the police. They were released without charge (1) six days later, after an intrusive investigation (2) involving their families, friends and political affiliations was carried out. The arrests were in relation to ‘radical material’, which the individuals were in possession of for research purposes (3). According to one academic, the police said the event never would have occurred if the persons involved had been: “Blonde, Swedish PhD students.”
Vanessa Pupavac, a lecturer in the school of Politics and International Relations says, “We are greatly concerned by the disproportionate nature of the university’s response to the possession of legitimate research materials. Both the individuals are unreservedly innocent and they and their families and friends and have been greatly distressed by the overzealous police investigation. It is crucial that we do not let concerns for security become the enemy of liberty and academic freedom.”
A petition (4) is currently being signed by hundreds of students and academics worldwide, asking the University of Nottingham to guarantee academic freedom on campus for all staff and students regardless of their ethnic background or political views.
Notes for editors:
(1) One of the individuals is yet to be freed as he was immediately re-arrested on immigration grounds.
(2) Police cars rushed onto campus at high speed in the middle of the exam period. Eyewitnesses have reported hearing loud sirens. Several security and police vehicles, including a scientific support team, parked outside the main Trent building in the middle of campus. Students passing by had their bags searched at random. The homes of the arrestees’ friends and family were thoroughly searched.
(3) This material is widely available on the Internet, including on official U.S. Government sites that are commonly used for reading lists in the School of Politics and International Relations.
(4) Petition text:
Protect Academic Freedom
On Wednesday 14th May 2008 two innocent members of the university community were arrested by police, under the Terrorism Act 2000. The arrests were in relation to alleged ‘radical material’, which the individuals were in possession of for research purposes. This material is widely available on the Internet, including on official US Government sites, which are used for reading lists in the School of Politics. It has become clear from statements made by the police and university that the arrests took place after university authorities contacted the police. There is widespread concern that the two individuals were targeted for investigation at least in part because of their ethnic backgrounds. The two were held for six days without charge whilst an intrusive investigation involving their families, friends and political affiliations was carried out. They were released without charge on Tuesday 20th May 2008. One was immediately re-arrested on immigration grounds.
We, the undersigned, believe that this incident constitutes a serious violation of academic freedom, and sets a worrying precedent.
We, the undersigned, demand that the University of Nottingham:
a) Acknowledges the unreserved innocence of the student and staff member in question
b) Apologises for the great distress caused to them, their families, and their friends
c) Acknowledges the disproportionate nature of the university’s response to the possession of legitimate research materials
d) Guarantees academic freedom on campus for all staff and students regardless of their ethnic background or political views
e) Takes steps to ensure freedom of speech and freedom of expression on campus