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29th September 2015

Warwick SU backs down on decision to block speech by secular activist

Under strong public pressure, Warwick University has reversed its controversial decision to block speaker

The Students’ Union at Warwick University has overturned a ban it imposed last week on a secular speaker it was concerned could offend Muslim students.

Since last Friday, Warwick University’s Students’ Union has been scrutinized over its decision to bar ex-Muslim rights activist Maryam Namazie from speaking at a society event. A combination of pressure from students and high profile critics of the decision has caused the Union to overturn its decision, the Coventry Observer reports.

Iranian-born Maryam Namazie is a secular activist, commentator, and spokesperson for Iran Solidarity, One Law for All, and the Council of Ex-Muslims of Britain. She was invited to speak at an event organized by the Warwick Atheists, Secularists and Humanists Society.

The group was informed shortly after that the speech was due to be cancelled, as it could offend Muslim students and “incite hatred” on campus. Namazie is an outspoken critic of Islamism and religious extremism and she considers herself to be an anti-racism campaigner.

When the decision to bar her from speaking was made public, students and campaigners showed a great deal of concern about the curbing of freedom of speech. High-profile figures such as Professor Brian Cox openly criticized the decision, with Cox saying: “We can’t allow for over-sensitive students to wrap themselves in cotton wool.”

Warwick University Students’ Union published an article this week admitting its errors and delineating its course of action. It states that while the decision should have come through the Union President and senior staff, this did not happen.

“These are the first steps that we are putting into place:

“The proper process has now been followed, as it should have been in the first place. The application by the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society for Warwick Students’ Union to host Maryam Namazie as an external speaker has now been considered and approved.

“The SU is now seeking to meet promptly with the leadership of the Warwick Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society to make the necessary arrangements for the event to take place in the format they have requested.

“Warwick SU will issue an unequivocal apology to Maryam Namazie for this egregious and highly regrettable error.

“Our process as to how we assess requests to host external speakers is very clear. However, it is also equally clear that how this process is communicated and understood by everyone in the SU who needs to be aware of it has failed, and failed badly in this case. We need to act immediately to examine how that happened, and to it put it right, and we will.

“We want to assure everyone of Warwick Students’ Union’s continued commitment to free speech. We also want to take this opportunity to apologise to everyone who has expressed concern, or disappointment, or who has been hurt by this significant error.”

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