This is a guest post by Sarah Amsler
I would like to call attention to the recent arrest and detention of two members of the University of Nottingham community, Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza – and the potentially expedited deportation of the latter. Students, faculty and staff have expressed anger and disbelief that the two men – Sabir, an MA student in Politics, and Yezza, an administrator in the School of Modern Languages and long-time member of the Nottingham Student Peace Movement – were arrested under ‘anti-terror’ legislation on May 14th after Sabir downloaded parts of an al-Qaeda training manual from a US State Department website as part of his Masters degree research and emailed it to Yezza for printing. Despite protestations from Sabir’s research supervisor that the document was both legitimate research material and widely accessible on the Internet, both men were held for six days. They were released without charge on May 20th, after inquiries involving their families, homes, colleagues, friends and associates. On May 21st, a group of concerned students and staff issued a press release to publicise their concerns about the violation of academic freedom and the criminalisation of political research. As one group of academics wrote, ‘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 more pressing concern is that Yezza, an Algerian national who has been living and working in the UK for thirteen years, was immediately re-arrested on complications relating to his immigration status, pending his application for leave to remain in the UK. He was initially given a hearing date in July, but the government has revoked this in favour of deporting him to Algeria suddenly, without trial, by June 1st. He is currently being held in a detention centre. Now, in addition to struggling to defend civil liberties on campus, students and faculty are thus organising an urgent campaign to ‘save Hich’, as Yezza is called by his friends. MPs, solicitors, and political activists have joined forces with students and staff at the university to lobby for his immediate release and his right to remain in the country.
The democratic practices valued by those arrested and their colleagues within the academic community – dialogue, debate, social criticism and social research – are precisely those which are disabled by the criminalisation of ideas. This is why it is even more significant that the many people organising to support them continue to reassert the imperative of prioritising democratic practices, including open dialogue, peaceful protest, informed political criticism, and due legal process.