Oxford students to protest at Assange appearance
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Students at Oxford University are planning demonstrations, following the confirmation of Julian Assange as a guest speaker via videolink at Oxford Union.
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The WikiLeaks founder has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy since last June, when he jumped bail while awaiting extradition to Sweden in connection to sexual assault allegations. The invitation comes from Oxford Union, the university’s 189-year-old debating society, which is known for having controversial figures, such as David Irving, Nick Griffin and George Galloway, and prides itself on freedom of speech. Assange has been asked to speak at the Sam Adams Awards ceremony, which celebrates prominent whistleblowers, on 23rd January.
Criticism of the invitation is focused mainly on the sexual assault allegations Assange is facing, with Tom Rutland, president-elect of Oxford University Students’ Union (OUSU), tweeting: “Someone facing a European arrest warrant in relation to being wanted for questioning regarding sexual offences should not be platformed.” The NUS ‘no platform’ policy effectively bans NUS and Union officers from sharing a platform with a ‘fascist’ or ‘racist’, although this policy was extended to include ‘rape apologists’ last year.
Abigail Burman, equal opportunities president at Corpus Christi College, added in a Guardian interview: “Assange is being invited to speak at an award ceremony, where he will be lauded for the work that he has done. It sends the message that rape is no big deal, apologies will be made for perpetrators, and survivors won't be heard. I completely support his right to free speech, but I think he needs to find another place to exercise it. Oxford should be a place where sexual assault is never okay.”
Oxford Union responded to the controversy in a press release, which states:
"Mr Assange is clearly a figure who generates controversy for reasons ranging from the charges made against him in Sweden, to the perceived recklessness of some WikiLeaks activities. We would therefore encourage those who disagree with him, or with any of our other speakers, to participate in the Q&A session."
Izzy Westbury, a former President of the Oxford Union, also defended the invitation: “The central principle is that a debate must not merely provide a platform for the guest speaker. I would expect and encourage questions that challenge both his views and his actions. We should put him in an uncomfortable position – that is the condition of the invite.”
Last year, the Cambridge Union Society withdrew their invitation to Assange amid growing outrage, citing technical issues as the reason.