Guild is BUSTed
BUGS under fire for 'illegal' censorship
David Deans Sarah Spencer
The Guild found itself in the national media last month following the potentially illegal censoring of a publicity leaflet for a meeting by guild society BUST the War.
In a debate hosted by BUST on 13th May, George Galloway, disgraced Labour MP for Glasgow and firm anti-war and pro-Palestinian campaigner, was invited to address students from the University on the Israel-Palestinian crisis. In the controversial publicity for the event Nelson Mandela was quoted on the leaflet entitled 'Occupation and Resistance' saying:
"Palestinians are not struggling for a 'state' but for freedom, liberation and equality, just like we were struggling for freedom in South Africa ... Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property".
Guild Council had in March passed a motion detailing that foreign conflicts could be 'openly debated' but only if 'presenting a balanced discussion', whilst publicity for meetings should be 'limited to notifying potential interested parties, but shall not cover substantive views'.
Under this new Guild policy, BUST'S advert in the last issue of Redbrick had this quote removed by Ali Marchant (VPIA), following complaints from students, and publicity for the event was removed from the basement and guild. In a retaliatory move the flyers were distributed with a stamp of 'censored by the Guild of Students' imprinted over the 'edited' Mandela quote.
Tensions continued to rise in the days leading up to the debate, with BUST'S executive being threatened with 'suspension from the University' were the society to continue 'distributing this material'. In an email to Ali Marchant BUST'S chair, Alex McDonagh, claimed Mr Marchant "was acting above and beyond his authority" and that "this is the latest in a long line of harassment and obstruction. We are strongly concerned about academic freedom on campus."
Seeking legal advice on the validity of the motion, the Guild were advised that the motion was potentially in breach of the 1998 European Human Rights Act which guarantees the right to freedom of speech. The subsequent meeting was permitted to go ahead without censorship, whilst further legal advice was sought by the Guild. Guild President Jon Horan defended the Executive's actions saying they 'unknowingly' acted illegally and that an 'alternative policy will be presented to the next Guild Council'.
The event on the 18th of May ran smoothly with minimal heckling and raised tempers. The speakers gave good talks and responded civilly to questions supporting both sides. Mr. Galloway was subject to heckling during his speech with certain members of the audience shouting 'traitor' and 'treason' in reference to acusations that he accepted money from the Iraqi oil for food programme. Following his speech Mr. Galloway lost his temper twice during questions. When asked about his alleged links to Saddam Hussein's regime he responded by threatening to take legal action against the student. Another student who suggested that he supported suicide bombers was met by Mr. Galloway standing up, pointing and shouting "How dare you! How dare you tell lies about me!".
BUST the war has been involved in numerous controversial activities since its creation a year ago. The society aims to stand 'against imperialism, state terrorism and militarism' and to 'defend rights to protest and civil liberties' rather than solely focused upon the recent Iraq conflict. In February this year BUST lead a convoy of five coaches to the anti-war protests in London. In addition to this after the outbreak of war with Iraq, BUST led protestors down the middle of the Bristol Road in Selly Oak, largely without prior announcement. At one point one protest leader attempted to walk the group down a tunnel into the city centre.
The action resulted in annoyed motorists left queuing behind the protesters. At least one car attempted to overtake the protestors and speed off. On the same day BUST had managed to unfurl a large banner from the top of the University clock-tower following an illegal break-in by chair Alex McDonagh. Whilst some have accused BUST of preaching to the converted, and of being deliberately provocative, the popularity of the society has remained strong in recent months, and their future now seems secure.
Birmingham students 'vanished in Israel
Arrested on suspicion of 'suicide bombing'
Two Birmingham medical students, Ayaz Ghani and Tahseen Chaudry, have disappeared in Israel after being arrested and accused of involvement in terrorist activity. The pair had been travelling through the Middle East following their placement in South Africa as part of their fourth year studies.
Ayaz Ghani had contacted his family on 23 May telling them that he would be travelling through Jordan to Syria and would be unable to call them in the following days. The families heard nothing from them until 4th June. Arrested in the West Bank near the border with Jordan, the pair were interned for eleven days during which time they were allowed no contact with the embassy nor to inform their families of their arrest. A foreign office spokesman confirmed that 'two British nationals were detained by Israeli authorities and were released on June 4. We had 'been informed of their detention within 24 hours.'However, it was only when the student's families contacted the embassy that they discovered the two men had been arrested The foreign office had made no attempts to contact the families throughout their eleven day imprisonment.
On 4 June Ayaz and Tahseen briefly telephoned their families telling them that they would "call you from Jordan" before the phone was cut off. Yasmin Ghani, sister of Ayaz described that "In the background my mother said she could hear some one shouting and then the line went dead. He said he would ring later but we have not heard anything since."
Nothing has been heard from either of the two students since. Samina, Tahseen's sister, also a former student of Birmingham University, said: " It is extremely distressing not to know what the physical and mental state of a member of your family is after being detained for such a long period. We are extremely disappointed that the Foreign Office has given us no help whatsoever. These two boys are lost between two countries. Nobody knows where they are. Both are known to be hard-working students. They have just over a year to become fully-qualified doctors. They have never committed any offence. They are just two students who enjoy travelling."
A foreign office spokesman told Redbrick "We are aware of the disappearance of two medical students and are pursuing enquiries with Israeli and Jordanian authorities'; they have subsequently learned that the two men never re-entered Jordan from Israel.
Jon Horan, Guild President, expressed his fears to Redbrick: 'I'm concerned that the students might not have been released as promised by the authorities, and that they were not allowed to contact their families for nearly two weeks. I will be writing to the University, the Foreign office and local MPs in their support and calling upon them to provide any assistance as necessary.'
Students, academics and the University have all expressed their concern at the disappearance of Ayaz and Tahseen, and are placing continual pressure on the foreign office to find them.
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