QUT: Students and staff speak out against censorship

March 30, 2007

Sixty students and staff rallied in the Queensland University of Technology Kelvin Grove amphitheatre on March 15 to protest against the recent arrest of four QUT students for "unauthorised" political activity on campus.

The students, all activists with the QUT Social Justice Collective (SJC), were arrested on Market Day for collecting signatures on a Free David Hicks petition at a stall that the university administration said "did not have permission". The conservative-run student guild called in security officers, who in turn called the police when the students refused to stop campaigning. The police demanded that the students "move on", and arrested them when they refused.

"Never once under [former National Party premier] Joh Bjelke-Peterson were students arrested on this campus", furious QUT staff member Gary McLennan told the protest. "We're going to shame the university for this", McLennan said, noting that the QUT vice-chancellor had watched as the students were carted away by a dozen police.

McLennan and other staff members who addressed the rally explained the importance of free speech on university campuses. When a student questioned why those arrested had not moved on, McLennan said: "A principle is at stake ... If the university or police can determine who can speak and what can be said, it is no longer free speech."

Members of the SJC pointed out that attempts had been made to block their previous requests for authorisation for activities that the student guild disagreed with. The rally was told, "Even this gathering is breaking university rules, because a megaphone is only allowed for one hour per week — 12-1pm on Tuesdays — with the university arguing that use at any other time will disturb other students".

The students' lawyer, Terry Fisher, said he will try to get all the students' court appearances set for the same day in order to make a mockery of the university administration once it goes to trial. Since the rally, there have been no further attempts to curtail political campaigning on the campus, a small step forward for free speech.

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