16 June 2008

Academic freedom detainee released from detention after 31 days.

By Alana Lentin

Following the cancellation order on his deportation, and after being detained for over 30 days, Hicham Yezza has been released on bail after the Home Office refused to grant him temporary release.

Hicham, a prominent political journal editor, writer and University member was arrested under anti-terror legislation for the possession of 'radical material' on May 14th. The document in question is widely used for research purposes and was downloaded from an official government website. At the time of the arrest the document was being used as material for a PhD proposal (supervised by staff in the Department of Politics and International Relations) of a student friend who was also arrested.

In the wake of the arrest the Home Office attempted to deport Hicham: a move that elicited widespread condemnation. Alan Simpson MP said: "The basis of that removal is to try to justify the abuse of power under the Terrorism Act" (see website for text of speech). The deportation order was cancelled in the midst of protests and a concerted campaign for Hicham's release, but he remained in detention for weeks in various immigration removal centres. The Home Office attempted to justify Hicham's continued detention by claiming he had an 'absence of close ties' to the UK. This was despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including hundreds of character references from friends and university colleagues, testifying to his excellent character and exceptional contributing to British society over the last 13 years.

Hicham's arrest highlights the routine and inappropriate use of the terror laws in Britain. Despite the fact that the 'radical material' was immediately confirmed as research material by academic supervisors, both Hicham and Riswaan Sabir were held for 6 days. This is a pre-charge detention period that would be illegal in most EU countries. This development comes in the wake of recent national debate surrounding the extension to 42 days pre-charge detention and at a time when the US Supreme Court reaffirms the writ of habeas corpus in relation terror suspects held in. Yet the UK Government continues to undermine this cornerstone of liberty and accelerates the erosion of fundamental civil liberties. When asked for comment on his release, Hicham said: "Being detained for the past 31 days has been the most harrowing experience of my life. The support my campaign has received from thousands of friends and supporters - including MPs academics, artists and concerned citizens in Nottingham and beyond - has been nothing short of inspirational and has sustained me through this difficult time. I have spent almost half my life in Nottingham and throughout that time have done my utmost to be a productive and positive member of the student and local communities. I look forward to continuing my fight for justice and I hope sense will prevail."

Campaign coordinator Musab Younis expressed his delight, commenting: "The incredible success of the campaign is testament to Hicham's deep roots in the community and unique contribution as a well-known activist, academic, writer, and artist. The campaign will press ahead in its aim to secure Hicham's right to stay in the region. We confidently expect a swift and positive resolution to this case, in line with the values of justice and free speech that we expect our country to uphold." We are delighted that Hicham Yezza has been granted immigration bail and has been released," said David Smith, immigration specialist with law firm Cartwright King and who is representing Mr Yezza. "The judicial review will now continue and we hope that the case will proceed in an orderly fashion to its proper conclusion."

Press conferences will be scheduled shortly: see our campaigning website updates.

Contact the Campaign:
Phone: 07948590262 / 07505863957 / 07726466211
Email: staffandstudents@googlemail.com
Stop the Deportation of Hicham Yezza
Website: http://freehichamyezza.wordpress.com


04 June 2008

Rushing to Nottingham's Defence

By Alana Lentin

Two academics from the University Nottingham have condemned the campaign in support of Hicham Yezza, an employee of Nottingham University charged over terrorism offences and released only to be re-arrested over spurious immigration offences. The two, Dr Sean Matthews and Dr Macdonald Daly, while expressing concern for the situation currently facing Mr Yezza who is being indefinitely held in immigration detention, condemn what they call the "irresponsible, opportunistic and unethical conduct of many colleagues involved in the campaign to support Mr Yezza."

The authors of the statement start by making two substantive points. Firstly, that "we are confident that the University's declarations about upholding academic freedom have been reflected in its response to the arrests." Secondly, they claim that "we do not believe that the arrests constitute a challenge or threat to academic freedom."

The argument therefore turns around whether the arrest of Hicham Yezza and Rizwaan Sabir, originally for downloading and printing an Al Qaeda training manual, was in contravention of academic freedom. Matthews and Daly contend that academic freedom has not been violated and that the University, in immediately reporting the matter to the police, was merely fulfilling its legal duty.

They also place the blame at Yezza and Sabir's door by claiming that they acted irresponsibly by colluding to print out the document (Mr. Sabir, a student asked his friend, Yezza, a staff member to print the document out for him for free). Had they not done so, the matter would never have come to the notice of the authorities. In making this claim, the authors are noting that banal occurrences of this nature happen on a regular basis. What they fail to do is make the connection between Sabir and Yezza's actions and the heavy-handedness of the response. As was noted in the letter signed by staff and students at Sussex and Brighton Universities, it is clear that if the two "culprits" were not of Middle-Eastern/North African origin, their actions would have gone unnoticed, given that the document they printed out is widely available on various official websites, including that of the US government. Simply, a two-tiered rule is being applied: one for those safe in the knowledge that their white privilege will shield them from the law, even if - as happens on a regular basis - they contravene "the rules" by getting a friend to do their printing for them; another for those on the "most wanted" list that connects them by skin colour, religion and/or national origin to those purported to be "out to get us".

What is even more worrying about this case is the connection to immigration. Hicham Yezza is now being held in detention pending potential deportation from the UK for violation of his immigration status. This appears spurious given that he was working for the University, which must have been aware of his legal status, and about to apply for British citizenship based on his 13 years of residence in the UK. Despite this, the authors of the statement claim:

Had Mr Yezza been able to substantiate his claim to the University that he had the appropriate legal employment status, as all employees are required to do when they take up a post, or even had he been able later when the University asked him, as it is legally required to do, to provide documentation to substantiate such a claim, he would not have been arrested for immigration irregularities. Again, the responsibility for his arrest appears to relate to his own failure to provide appropriate documentation.
By putting the case in such procedural terms, Matthews and Daly are missing two points: Firstly, procedurally, no University in the UK employs anyone before their immigration status has been officially verified. Therefore, the immigration offences he is deemed to have committed appear mainly to be bogus. Secondly and more importantly, the authors fail to admit that current policy on "terrorism" works also to demonise "immigrants" as potential terrorists. Thus, by very virtue of one's status as a non-citizen from outside the EU, the US, Australia, etc. one is potentially guilty of plotting against the British state. Countless people, many long-term residents of the UK, have fallen victim of this politics that condemns people, especially those of "Arab" or "Muslim" origin, to de facto suspicion. As is documented in the film Taking Liberties, this has led to individuals being condemned to indefinite house arrest or imprisonment in criminal and/or immigration detention centres despite no hard evidence being brought against them relating to their purported links to terrorism.

This leads back to the issue of academic freedom. Part of what the current attack on universities from government and big business is doing is to silence individual academics who have chosen this career precisely because traditionally it enabled us to speak openly and freely about issues that concern us. It is ironic that, on the one hand, the talk is of liberalisation and flexibility, and on the other, we are being asked to police our students, suspected of involvement with "radical islamists". In the logic of the market, academics are styling their research funding applications to suit what they think will be funded rather than what they wish to research; what they believe will benefit society.

Ironicially, one of the biggest research areas identified by the research councils in tandem with government policy, is that of "security studies". This is exactly what Rizwaan Sabir was engaged in, downloading a document that is considered by security specialists crucial to the understanding of why "they hate us" and how terror networks such as Al Qaeda function. The question left begging, thefore, is just what kind of research is admissible and who should be allowed to carry it out? In absence of a clear response, we are all left asking the question, who will be next to be picked off, and how soon before it is not someone who can be attacked through the vehicle of immigration offences as was the case in Germany last year. And what, in the present climate, will no longer be deemed admissible research? If these are not questions of academic freedom, surely little else is...


02 June 2008

Against the Deportation of Hicham Yezza

By Alana Lentin

Staff and students at the Universities of Sussex and Brighton are signing a joint letter of protest against the proposed deportation on Hicham Yezza addressed to the Minister of State for Borders and Immigration, Liam Byrne and the Vice Chancellor of Nottingham University, Colin Campbell.

Hicham Yezza, a staff member of the University of Nottingham who was arrested under the Terrorism Act for downloading an Al Qaeda training manual freely available from a US government wesbite. Although Mr Yezza was cleared of all terrorism charges, he is now facing imminent deportation on spurious immigration related offences. The University of Nottingham where Mr Yezza has been both a student and a member of staff for the last 13 years has done nothing in his support. He is currently in immigration detention awaiting deportation.

We are concerned that the actions of the Home Office, and Nottingham University's public silence over the matter, amount to an attack on intellectual freedom in this country that affects us all. It is also a matter of deep concern that the government, rather than admitting its mistake in arresting Hicham Yezza, has preferred to take the draconian measure of deporting him despite his longevity in the country.

Letter from staff and students at the Universities of Sussex and Brighton regarding the proposed deportation of Hicham Yezza to Liam Byrne MP, Minister of State for Borders and Immigration and Colin Campbell, Vice-Chancellor, Nottingham University (Copy send to The Guardian Education and The Independent).

Replies c/o Dr Alana Lentin, Department of Sociology, University of Sussex, Falmer, BN1 9RH. a.lentin@sussex.ac.uk

Brighton, June 3 2008

Dear Mr Byrne and Mr Campbell,

As academics and students at the Universities of Sussex and Brighton, concerned with the freedom of academic inquiry and study, we are writing to you with reference to the recent arrest of Rizwaan Sabir and Hicham Yezza at the University of Nottingham. The apparent offence was the downloading of an Al Qaeda Training Manual from the internet, freely available on a US government website. The response of the authorities and the University of Nottingham, in its singular lack of support, is a matter of serious concern to all British academics and students.

This matter has been compounded by the re-arrest, detention and potential deportation of Hicham Yezza on grounds of irregularities in his immigration status. It reflects very badly on this country that in response to the embarrassment caused by the initial arrest, further action against Mr Yezza should be taken merely to deflect public criticism of his handling by the security services. Hicham Yezza has been educated in Britain, has lived here for 13 years and makes a positive contribution to life in our country. As fellow citizens and residents, we believe that these actions are in dangerous contravention of our freedom as both scholars and human beings to contribute to research into matters of public concern. We are also convinced that if Mr Sabir and Mr Yezza had not been Muslim that their "offence" would not have come to the attention of the police. This has severe repercussions for students and staff of ethnic minority background or international members of our community who should feel secure as students and staff of our universities.

At a time when British universities are facing cuts and seeking income from international students, it is deeply ironic that the security and immigration services are making such efforts in alienating people from Asia, the Middle East and North Africa from coming to our country. We stand in solidarity with Hicham Yezza and others who may face the appalling situation to which he has been subjected and demand that he is released from detention and allowed to go home to Nottingham. We also call on Mr Campbell, as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Nottingham, to issue an apology to Mr Sabir and Mr Yezza for their treatment by the University and to do everything he can in his power to halt the deportation of Hicham Yezza.

Yours sincerely,