An appearance by Julian Assange at Oxford University is prompting students to organise demonstrations in London and Oxford in protest.
The Wikileaks founder, who is currently wanted for extradition to Sweden over rape allegations, is scheduled to speak via videolink at the annual Sam Adams awards ceremony, held at the university's debating union. Assange is a previous winner of the award; in 2010 he was honoured for “integrity in intelligence”.
Now, a group of Oxford students is organising two protests to coincide with the event on 23 January. One is to take place at the university, while the other will be held outside the Ecuadorian embassy, where Assange has sought sanctuary.
Julian Assange has been holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy for more than six months
Simone Webb, one of the chief organisers, told The Huffington Post UK: "I'm doing this because I want to express my anger at Assange's continued evasion of the justice system over his rape allegations.
"The [Oxford] Union have invited him to speak at an awards ceremony at the Union - a speech, not a debate, so there will be little opportunity for him to be called to account. I do not think that someone who is actively fleeing rape allegations should have been offered this privilege."
Webb emphasised the group was not proposing a blanket no platform policy and was specific to the "manner" of inviting Assange to speak.
There is already divided opinion among Oxford students, which has clearly manifested itself on the demonstration's Facebook page, with one student querying the reason behind the protest:
Another, Bonnie Newman, wrote: "A protest at the union for broadcasting a video? Hello to 'free expression'. Please don't spoil it for the rest of us. He is not facing 'rape charges', they are allegations.
A spokesman for the Oxford Union said: "We are keen that Mr Assange’s presence does not overshadow the ceremony or the Award itself. The focus of the day is on exposing institutional corruption and espousing freedom of speech, and it is in this capacity that Mr Assange will join our other speakers in presenting the Award.
"Mr Assange is a thinker and activist who has made significant contributions to the debate on government transparency. It is hoped that institutional corruption, whistleblowing and freedom of speech can all be discussed without in any way sanctioning or condoning his alleged private actions."
He added: "Mr Assange is clearly a figure who generates controversy for reasons ranging from the charges made against him in Sweden, to the perceived recklessness of some Wikileaks activities. We would therefore encourage those who disagree with him, or with any of our other speakers, to participate in the Q&A session."
Suzanne Holsomback, vice president for women at Oxford University's student union, said the use of Assange was an "exercise in sensationalism".
"The Oxford Union Society’s invitation to Julian Assange glorifies his past with WikiLeaks and neglects the reality that he is unwilling to face his European Arrest Warrant, as well as allegations of rape from the criminal justice system of Sweden. Using a fugitive of justice is deliberately provocative and is clearly an exercise in sensationalism on the part of the Oxford Union Society.
"In addition to this, the Union’s invitation is blatantly disrespectful to survivors of rape and sexual assault because it silently affirms the myth that most rape reports are false and propagates the fictitious idea that rape and sexual assault survivors are to blame."
Assange was previously due to appear to speak at Cambridge University via videolink but cancelled the appearance due to "technical issues". At the time, students called the planned event "insulting to survivors of rape".
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