Objections to Julian Assange speaking at the Union have escalated, with undergraduates raising motions in JCR meetings to protest, and the OUSU council set to discuss a motion to denounce the Oxford Union’s invitation to the Wikileaks founder.
Julian Assange is currently in exile at the Ecuadorian embassy in London due to his outstanding arrest warrant for sexual assault, but willl be speaking at the Oxford Union via video link next week.
Wadham SU passed a “statement of disapproval” condeming Assange’s platform to speak. The motion noted that it “is disrespectful to survivors of rape and sexual assault” and mandated the SU Women’s Officer to write to the President of the Oxford Union to express the SU’s displeasure at the move.
A similar proposal is also set to be discussed at Corpus Christi on Sunday, with Abigail Burns, the JCR Equal Opportunities President, presenting motion calling for no platform for Assange.
Burns said: “My reasons for proposing the motion are the UK’s appalling rape statistics, and the fact that the Union has invited…someone who has repeatedly undermined the experiences of sexual assault survivors.”
She added: “I support the policy of having an open platform, and inviting controversial guests. But…when the Union invites someone who is actively fleeing rape charges and whose supporters have said horrible things about the women who accused him, it contributes to the fact that between 75 and 95 percent of rapes in the UK go unreported.”
Reflecting the discontent across colleges, a motion to denounce Assange’s platform at to the Union was discussed in the OUSU student council meeting last night (although the result was not known at the time of going to print).
OUSU Women’s Officer Suzanne Holsomback is agreement with the motion, and said: “Most of my constituents have responded positively to the motion put forward to OUSU Council.
“I believe strongly in justice for survivors of rape and sexual assault and I feel honored for this opportunity to present the motion to Council. By doing so I also hope to dispel some of the horrible myths surrounding survivors of rape and sexual assault.”
A protest has also been arranged to coincide with Assange’s talk, and Simone Webb, the organiser, said: “[The] protest is focusing primarily on Assange’s continued evasion of the justice system and his refusal to face interrogation for rape allegations.”
Another concern raised by Webb was the biography provided for Julian Assange in the Union term card. She said: “The biography of Assange and publicity fail to mention the rape allegations to an extent to which it becomes misleading; by mentioning only his political actions, and then that he is a fugitive in the Ecuadorian embassy, there is a misleading implication that he is a fugitive in the embassy for political reasons.
“This is not a no-platform policy – my response would be different if he was speaking in a debate, for instance, where his views could be challenged.”
In response to this, President of the Union Maria Rioumine, said: “He [Assange] is being brought here to be challenged, people can ask any questions they want in the Q & A session. The whole point of the Union is to bring people in front of students and let them engage in questions with them.”
A Union spokesperson added: “Mr Assange will speak for twenty minutes, after which the Q&A for his speech will last twenty minutes. The Union would encourage any member who wishes to question Mr Assange to take this opportunity to do so.”
Yet regarding Assange’s biography in the term card, Rioumine conceded that the reasons for his asylum “should have been included”.
Disagreeing with the protests, a second year student [who wished to remain anonymous] said: “Everyone deserves the platform to speak, and despite any other claims against him, he is still the whistleblower behind Wikileaks.”
Mr Assange will address the Oxford Union Society via video link on the 23rd January (2nd week) followed by a Q & A session.