Call for independent inquiry into suspension of Nottingham academic

A subject association has called for an independent inquiry into the suspension of a University of Nottingham academic for criticising the university’s role in the arrest of an administrator and a student under the terrorism act.

July 11, 2011

Nottingham master’s student Rizwaan Sabir was arrested in 2008 after downloading an al-Qaeda training manual from a US government website.

Hicham Yezza, who was the principal school administrator at Nottingham's School of Modern Languages, was also arrested after the document was found on his computer.

The pair were released without charge after Mr Sabir explained that he had intended to use the document in his dissertation about Islamic extremism, and had forwarded it to Mr Yezza for printing and for advice on whether or not he should reference it.

In May this year, Rod Thornton, a lecturer in the university’s School of Politics and International Relations, was suspended after writing a paper on the incident, in which he strongly criticised the university’s treatment of the two arrested men.

His paper, How A Student’s Use Of A Library Book Became A 'Major Islamist Plot, was posted on the website of the British International Studies Association, but was removed after a complaint that the article was libellous.

Inderjeet Parmar, BISA chairman, has now sent an open letter to Nottingham vice-chancellor David Greenaway reporting “a strong feeling of unease and concern” among BISA members over the question of academic freedom raised by Dr Thornton’s case.

Professor Parmar, who is, professor of government at the University of Manchester, suggests it would be “helpful” to appoint an independent committee to investigate the case, about which “questions persist”.

“Such an independent process would help bring out the main issues and explore lessons learned, as well as helping to address the anxieties and concerns of BISA members,” he writes.

“The University of Nottingham may be well served in taking this opportunity publicly to clarify its position and, of course, to reaffirm its commitment to freedom of intellectual enquiry.”

A university spokesman said Professor Greenway would respond to Professor Parmar’s letter “in due course”, but rejected his call for an independent inquiry on the grounds that the “facts of the case have not changed in the past three years”.

He said Dr Thornton’s case was being dealt with in “an entirely standard way, under procedures governed by university statutes and with oversight by the university council, which has a majority of independent members”.

“At all times since the incident took place, in May 2008, the university has acted in an ethical, transparent and fair manner, motivated by its responsibility to students and staff and its public duty to the wider community,” the spokesman added.

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