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Free speech has been challenged at a number of British universities over the last few months

Free speech has been challenged at a number of British universities over the last few months

The suppression of free speech in universities was the subject of a debate in the Lords this week following a question tabled by Baroness Deech.

A spate of recent disruptions at Goldsmiths, Kings College and Canterbury has put into question the notion of free speech in universities. Baroness Deech asked the government what measures were being taken to “ensure freedom of lawful speech at universities.” She pressed the Minister to speak with vice-chancellors to ensure free speech would be upheld.

Last year a video emerged of a Muslim reformer being heckled and aggressively interrupted by Muslim students at Goldsmiths. Earlier this year police were called to Kings College following reports of violent protest against a speech being given by Israel’s ex secret service chief. The meeting organised by the Israel society was brought to a halt by violent pro Palestine protesters.

The Minister agreed with Baroness Deech and said Universities have a clear legal duty to ensure legal views can be heard, challenged and debated.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations said, “My Lords, debate should always be conducted in courteous terms but does the Minister agree that words such as “antisemitism” and “Islamophobia” and those relating to any other type of religious phobia should not be used as shields to stifle legitimate debate?”

The Minister responded thus, “we absolutely want to support students and universities in ensuring that legitimate, lawful debate and the challenging of ideas happens in our universities.”

Houses of Parliament

Palace of Westminster

A question on how the government intends to respond to resolutions made at the European Parliament and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe condemning the actions of IS as genocide was the subject of a debate in the Lords earlier this month.

Lord Alton of Liverpool (who asked the question) said it was futile for Britain to be a member of the 1948 genocide convention if it, “declines to name this horrific cruelty for the genocide that it is.” He described the horrors perpetrated by IS, including the forced conversion, abduction, systemic executions and enslavement of Christians and Yazidis.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon, the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations (NSO) said, “My Lords, when a few months ago I asked for government support for an international inquiry into supposed genocide against the Sikh community in India, I was told, in a very short reply, that it was solely a matter for the Indian Government. That was not a very Christian sentiment.”

He went on, “would the Minister agree with the sentiments of the Sikh guru who gave his life defending the right of followers of another religion to worship in the manner of their choice? Human rights abuses against anyone are the responsibility of us all, and the Government should take every measure to bring those guilty of them to justice.”

The Earl of Courtown responded thus, “My Lords, the noble Lord refers to a Question that my noble friend Lady Anelay answered. We will of course take careful note of what the noble Lord said, including how important it is that people have the freedom to worship in their own faith.”

 

Parmjeet

Parmjeet Singh

Paramjeet Singh fled from arbitrary arrest and torture in India in 1999, and in the following year was granted indefinite leave to remain in the UK after a finding of a justifiable fear of persecution if he was made to return to India.

Paramjeet is married and is the father of 4 children age 7 to 11. In December 2015 the family went on a short Christmas holiday to Portugal where he was arrested by Interpol at the request of the Indian government and is now facing extradition proceedings for his forced return to India. It seems that the Indian government had taken exception to his speaking out on human rights abuse in India. Lord Singh, for the NSO, has raised his concerns with the Minister for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and other Sikh groups have also raised concerns with both British and Portuguese governments.

In an interview on 3rd January 2015 with a Portuguese television channel outside the House of Lords, Lord Singh was asked why had Paramjeet Singh after being granted asylum, continued to attack India’s attitude to human rights instead of simply getting on with his own life.

Lord Singh responded that we all have a responsibility to condemn the ill treatment of others, and for Sikhs this responsibility is embedded in religious teachings and is obligatory.

He appealed to the authorities in Portugal not to be used like pawns in a backdoor attempt by Indian authorities to silence criticism of their human rights record, and return Paramjeet to British jurisdiction.

UK government_0

A question on the progress of a government review into funding of extremist interpretations of Islam was the subject of a debate in the House of Lords earlier this week.

A Government review announced by the Prime Minister last year is scheduled to report back by spring 2016. Analysts across government departments are looking into sources of funding, which include those from overseas.

A government commissioned report last year into Islamist organisations concluded:

“Muslim Brotherhood ideology and tactics, in this country and overseas, are contrary to our values and have been contrary to our national interests and our national security.”

In questions in the Lords, Lord Singh of Wimbledon the Director of the Network of Sikh Organisations asked Her Majesty’s government:

“My Lords, when we talk about Islamic extremism, should we not attempt to be more precise in what we are talking about? There are passages in the Koran that might have been relevant to the time when the infant Muslim community was under siege from all sides but may not be so relevant today.”

He went on, “It is important that those passages be put in the context of today. Should the Government not be working with Muslim leaders to that end”

Other contributors to the debate included the Archbishop of Canterbury.

 

 

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