A conference at Queen’s University Belfast on the legacy of the Charlie Hebdo murders has been cancelled over security and ‘reputation’ concerns, it has been claimed.
The event, titled “Understanding Charlie: New perspectives on contemporary citizenship”, was due to be held at Queen’s in June.
However, delegates have now been informed that the conference on the murder of 12 people at the offices of the French satirical magazine in January, and its aftermath, will not take place.
In an email sent on 20 April, organisers say that the university’s vice-chancellor Patrick Johnston “does not wish our symposium to go ahead”.
“He is concerned about the security risk for delegates and about the reputation of the university,” the email says.
Alan Munton, honorary research fellow in the department of English at the University of Exeter, who was due to speak at the event, said its cancellation was a “disgrace”.
“It shows an appalling lack of solidarity with the ‘Je suis Charlie’ movement, in which people said the open and free discussion of controversial ideas should never be closed down,” he said.
“This event was set to be a thoughtful and non-partisan discussion on a major international event and its lasting impact – it seems extraordinary it has been shut down in this authoritarian manner,” he added.
Jodie Ginsberg, chief executive of Index on Censorship, said she also had concerns about the event’s cancellation.
“If all public discussion on important issues is shut down because of security fears then the terrorists have won,” she told the Little Atoms website.
“Free speech – including the free exchange of ideas – is vital for democracy and universities in particular should be the torch bearers for free expression,” she added.
But in a statement released on 21 April, Queen’s said the event’s organisers, the Institute for Collaborative Research in the Humanities, had not completed the risk assessment required for all major events.
“As a result the institute has cancelled the event,” a university spokeswoman said.
“This issue is not related to academic freedom,” she added, saying “Queen’s continues to uphold the importance of academic freedom in a world-class institution and has demonstrated this over many years”.