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,


Gurminder K. Bhambra said...

As far as I understand it, Hicham Yezza has been forcefully removed to a detention centre in Dover. The main aim of this is to isolate him further from his friends and supporters and we must not let this happen. Please continue to send messages of support, letters, faxes etc to Hicham at;

The Citadel
Western Heights,Dover
Kent CT17 9DR

Tel: 01304 246400
Fax: 01304 246401

For further details, see:


Andrew Chitty said...

Here are two useful articles on Hicham Yezza's case:

'Draconian' Home Office fast-tracks Algerian's deportation, 25 May, Independent

'This is not the way I should have been treated in a country I love', 31 May, Guardian

Leaving aside the actions of the Home Office in fast-tracking Hicham Yezza for deportation after he had been released without charge, and despite the fact that (according to the Independent) he had applied for leave to remain in the UK and his case was scheduled to be heard in July, there is a serious worry here about the actions of the University of Nottingham's management.

Calling the police in was clearly a gross overreaction to the discovery that Mr. Yezza had downloaded an 'Al-Qaeda training manual', but the management have made things worse by continuing to defend that decision. According to an email from a group of academics there, the University first issued a statement that the document was 'illegitimate' research material, and then retracted this and stated that it was appropriate for academic members of staff (but by implication for no-one else) to be in possession of such materials.

Section 58(1) of the Terrorism Act 2000, under which Mr. Sabir and Mr. Yezza were originally arrested, appears to make it an offence to possess any document containing "information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism". However a Court of Appeal judgment in February ruled that this should be understood to apply only in circumstances which give rise to "a reasonable suspicion" that the person intends to use the document in order to commit or instigate an act of terrorism. In other words it is not illegal as such to possess such documents. Since there could hardly have been such a reasonable suspicion in the case of Mr. Yezza, who is well known on campus as a civil liberties activist and editor of the University's Nottingham Student Peace Movement magazine Ceasefire, it looks as if the University's management has tried to outdo the law in authoritarianism by treating possession of such documents as if it were in itself a criminal offence, and has then attempted to defend this as all quite legitimate.

These actions are obviously a symptom of the general climate of illiberalism generated by the 'war on terrorism'. But more specifically it is not far-fetched to think that they are a consequence of the financial and political pressures that the Government is now putting on British universities, which are the central concern of this blog. It seems possible that under these pressures the managements of universities such as Nottingham are becoming more concerned about pleasing the Government than they are about defending core academic values like intellectual freedom on their own campuses.

Andrew Chitty

Alana Lentin said...

We have collected 131 signatures in less than 24 hours. I have sent the letter to the education section of the Guardian as well as to the Independent.