Raising the alarm

July 3, 2008

Sir Colin Campbell's claim that the arrests of the "Nottingham Two" is not a matter of academic freedom (Letters, 19 June) is not acceptable. He essentially admits the charges laid at his door by three of his own academics, that the University of Nottingham's "risk assessment" mentality led to two innocent people being wrongfully arrested and detained without anyone bothering to ask the tutors of the student concerned whether the possession of an al-Qaeda training manual (freely available online and in bookstores) was legitimate for someone studying terrorism. Rizwaan Sabir's tutors are, in fact, of the opinion that it was entirely legitimate but, according to a police notice issued to Sabir on his release on 20 May, "The University authorities have now made clear that possession of this material is not required for the purpose of your course of study nor do they consider it legitimate for you to possess it for research purposes." Nottingham academics are still awaiting clarification as to what the university told the police and under whose authority. They are also seeking clarification about concerns that police stop-and-search powers were used illegally on campus. The police note threatened the possibility of "arrest and further detention" if Sabir looked at such material again.

If it stands, can one imagine a clearer blow to the academic freedom of Sabir, his fellow students and anyone who wishes to conduct research on controversial subjects free from harassment and intimidation? It is for these reasons that I and 34 fellow research students from the universities of Oxford, London, Manchester, Westminster, Kent and the London School of Economics have written to Sir Colin to express our profound alarm at the way the Nottingham Two have been mistreated by his administration and calling on him to give them support and to work with his own academics to ensure academic freedom is protected in the future.

Lee Jones, Nuffield College, Oxford.

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