Nottingham University officials filmed Muslim students on campus as a method of monitoring “extremists” in the wake of the arrests of innocent Muslim students three years ago, it has emerged.
President of Federation of Student’s Islamic Societies, Nabil Ahmed, described the disclosure by Unileaks as an outrage . “Claims that the University of Nottingham films students - secretly or otherwise - is outrageous and is a new low in the university’s mismanagement of the ‘Nottingham Two’ debacle. That the university filmed issues relating to Palestine and the Middle East demonstrates exactly who the university was seeking to target,” Ahmed said.
In a statement to The Muslim News a spokesperson for students campaign SWAN (Support the Whistleblower At Nottingham), Sam Walton, warned of the dangers of such unfettered spying. “These leaks show how everything can and does go wrong when a brand conscious university is left to deal with security issues such as terrorism. What’s more this case highlights how a leading British university can act with impunity on such a sensitive issue.”
A group of students and alumni teamed up with the whistleblowing website Unileaks to publish over 200 internal University of Nottingham and Government documents.The cache of documents includes highly sensitive material, for example, from the Met Police Special Branch, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), the Home Office and Dept for Universities (BIS) and others.
Pictures have also emerged of student protesters being filmed covertly by University security.Unileaks published documents detailing the extents of techniques being deployed to monitor Muslim students four days after the Government published its Prevent terrorism strategy.
The material released on June 12 chronicles the consequences of the May 2008 arrest by counter-terrorism officers of Nottingham students Rizwaan Sabir and of Hicham Yezza.
Sabir had downloaded an al Qa’ida training manual as part of research for a dissertation, and had sought Yezza’s help in drafting a PhD proposal because of his position as editor of a political magazine. Although campaigners say the manual was available in the university’s own library and that versions are available from retailers Blackwell, Waterstone and Amazon, university officials alerted the police as part of Government’s Prevent Violent Extremism strategy on campuses.
Although both were released without charge six days later, the Unileaks documents reveal that the arrests were cited in a report by the Home Office, called Islamist Terrorist Plots in Great Britain: Uncovering the Global Network.
The university also kept a log of Middle East-related activities on campus.
Entitled ‘Events on Campus’ the list included details of talks and seminars revolving around Palestine, anti-terrorism and Middle Eastern arts and “events organised by the academic centre for Social and Global Justice.”
A spokesman for the University admitted to The Muslim News that staff filmed demonstrations “on some occasions…in the event of any problems or issues arising that need to be followed up afterwards. No footage has been retained of any protests, nor has any footage of any individual student been retained or passed on to any other organisation. It is worth noting that when demonstrations take place on campus, members of university staff are routinely filmed by those taking part in the demonstrations.”
He added: “The University is not ‘watching’ any students and we do not share student information with the police or Government agencies.”
Staff and students who supported Yezza and Sabir were logged by a Whitehall counter-terrorism unit called the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), which is embedded in the Government’s Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism.
Last month, Nottingham University lecturer Dr Rod Thornton was suspended for writing an article for the British International Studies Association criticising the university’s treatment of the men. Dr Thornton alleged the university “refused to apologise to the men” and attempted to smear them.
“Untruth piled on untruth until a point was reached where the Home Office itself farcically came to advertise the case as a ‘major Islamist plot’,” he wrote.
The university responded by suspending Dr Thornton. That prompted an international outcry in which 67 academics, including the renowned US scholar Noam Chomsky, demanded his “immediate reinstatement”. The group described the original arrests as “indicative of a growing tide of Islamophobia”.
Following is the response we have received by University of Nottingham on the story:
Why have you stated in your intro that we ‘filmed Muslim students’? You imply by this that we have singled out Muslim students for some kind of different treatment at events, which is not the case. You seem to be trying to tell your audience that Muslim students are filmed and others are not, which is not the case. Where students demonstrations are filmed, this is in case of any incident which needs follow-up afterwards (for example to provide a record of anything which occurs if there was a breach of health and safety regs and someone was injured). So where filming takes place, it is not of particular students, but of demonstrations in general. None of the filmed material has been retained.
You also seem to have conflated the filming of certain demonstrations with a list of events on campus that has been circulated on Unileaks, implying that we filmed all these events. This is not the case.
You also state that the Al Qaeda training manual was available on our library shelves at the time of the arrests in May 2008. It was not.
You refer to Hicham Yezza as a student at the time of the arrests in May 2008. He was not – he was an admin member of staff. It’s an important distinction in the context of the discovery of the training manual on his computer (by chance, by a colleague looking for another document on a day when Mr Yezza was on sick leave).
University officials did not “…alert the police as part of Government’s Prevent Violent Extremism strategy on campuses…” (your text), they brought in the police because they found a training manual (with chapters on killing with rifles and pistols, knives, poisons and booby-trap bombs) on the computer of an administrative member of staff – not a student, researcher, or an academic – ie. not someone you’d expect to have this for research purposes. This member of staff was working in a school where you would not expect to find such a document. University senior management took a decision, based on their responsibility and duty of care to all students and staff, that their concerns should be conveyed to the police as the appropriate body to investigate.
It is precisely because staff felt they were not the appropriate people to decide what action should be taken (in response to the discovery of the training manual) that they involved the police. So how does this tally with the SWAN claim that this is what happens when a university is “…left to deal with security issues such as terrorism…” (quote from Sam Walton)?
You seem to have overlooked many of these key facts about the events of May 2008 in your article.
Deputy Director, Communications
The University of Nottingham
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