Students claim they were denied the right to protest at a lecture given by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf.
They say security personnel paid for by the Oxford International Relations Society seized protest leaflets from students who were entering Oxford Town Hall to attend last Friday’s lecture, hosted by IR Soc.
But IR Soc officials have conflicting reports over whether this occurred.
The Society also pre-screened the questions students asked Musharraf after his speech.
Isaac Turner, a DPhil candidate at Wolfson College who attended the lecture, said security guards confiscated a leaflet from him.
“I was folding the leaflet and there was this security guy who saw me putting it into my pocket and took it off me. The pieces of paper with tickets on them were allowed, though,” Turner said.
Turner said he felt insulted by the security guard’s actions.
“Being searched for dissenting pieces of paper before entering a talk is ridiculous. It’s really an insult to the idea of debate that the IR Society is supposed to encourage,” Turner said.
The confiscated posters contained quotes from Musharraf and a list of dates when the former president arrested Pakistani judges. An unidentified individual distributed the posters in front of Town Hall.
A spokesperson for Oxford City Council said Town Hall management asked the security guards to take the leaflets away from students. They said the security paid for by IR Society “were there to manage people” and they removed the leaflets from students because “they opposed Musharraf’s visit.”
IR Society’s leadership gave conflicting accounts of the authorities’ actions.
IR Soc President Kanishka Narayan said security was justified in stopping students from bringing in what he called “propaganda” leaflets, which could have caused “disruptions” in the lecture.
“The security warnings that we sent said all you were allowed to bring into the event was your Bod card and your confirmation ticket, so [students] would not have been allowed any propaganda or any other things like bags, etc,” Narayan said.
IR Soc President-elect Chris Sykes told a different story, saying he “didn’t hear and can’t imagine” protest material being taken away from students at the lecture.
“It wouldn’t be the Society’s policy to allow that to happen. We are an Oxford Society in the Western world, and we promote free speech,” Sykes said.
Students who attended the lecture also complained about the pre-screening of questions that students asked Musharraf.
IR Soc Secretary Jan Indracek said: “There seems to be some controversy about pre-screening of questions.
“We basically did this for two reasons: one is that President Musharraf announced he would be returning to Pakistan quite soon and there were some topics on which he basically could not comment, and we wanted to avoid President Musharraf having to turn them down.
“We also wanted to cover a wide range of issues and wanted to give him the most interesting and challenging questions.”
Sykes, the President-elect, referred criticisms of the question screening to Narayan, the current President, saying, “He had an idea of how he wanted to run it and what he wanted to accept. I had no involvement.”
One person stood up and asked a different question from the one he had submitted and started heckling Musharraf. Security guards took the individual away.
Narayan said IR Soc’s committee had aimed to prevent any disruptions at the lecture, commenting that the recent heckling of the Israeli President and Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister at Oxford lectures was “pretty embarrassing and pretty awful”.
CORRECTION, 8:03 PM 10/6/10: The IR Soc’s President-Elect is Chris Sykes.