The six students and members of the local community are facing charges of Aggravated Trespass for going into a lecture theatre to explain their opposition and hand out leaflets to delegates at a networking meeting for large companies (mainly involved in the defence industries, but also including GM, electronics and oil interests) and academic researchers.
They face up to three months in jail.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
The Supporters Group is asking campaigners everywhere to:
* WRITE TO THE VICE CHANCELLOR of Lancaster University - to ask him to DROP THE CHARGES against the six, and to introduce a PROPER FREEDOM OF SPEECH policy that doesn't allow the university to intimidate dissenting voices.
Vice-Chancellor Prof. Paul Wellings
University of Lancaster
Lancaster LA1 4YW
Tel: 01524 592001
A sample letter is available at: http://www.free-webspace.biz/GeorgeFox/letter.pdf
* Check with your own institution whether they have a policy of allowing peaceful protest.
* Ask your union to pass a motion to support the 6, and to inform Lancaster University of this motion.
* If your university or union has an environment or ethics officer, ask them to support the campaign to drop the charges and for all universities to allow criticism and protest on campus.
You can get up to date news, and more information from http://www.free-webspace.biz/GeorgeFox/index.html
AND A BIT OF BACKGROUND INFO
On the 10th September 2004 a "Corporate Venturing" conference was held at a lecture theatre at Lancaster University. The conference focused on business networking, and the "commercialisation of Intellectual Property".
In clear English, this was an event for large multinational corporations (see list on the website) to "network", and work out how best to exploit academic research.
The protestors, all students or graduates, took exception to two things -
first that controversial corporations with appalling human rights, animal welfare and environmental standards should be aided and abetted by their university;
and secondly, that the university should wholeheartedly engage in selling off student and staff research, to be privatised, copyrighted and patented as so-called "intellectual property" of these companies, rather than contributed to the body of knowledge - as has been the role of universities for hundreds of years.
The six students and graduates went into the Lecture Theatre and handed out leaflets and talked to delegates. Some delegates were interested in what was being said, and engaged the protestors in conversation while security removed others. The demonstration continued outside.
The police were called at that point, but they told the demonstrators they were doing nothing illegal, and that seemed
to be the end of the matter.
However, five months later, all six received a court summons for Aggravated Trespass. This is a criminal offence, but the main ingredient is trespass - a civil matter - so the charges cannot be pressed without the university's approval. Only they can decide if the protesters (all students or graduates!) were trespassing by being on campus.
The protestors felt they had to make an attempt to directly engage with delegates since the university provides no way for those not directly involved in conferences to voice support or opposition. In this case it appears the university had attempted to hide the fact that the conference was taking place - the protestors only found out about it that very morming. The university has also admitted that it had not followed its own procedures for non-academic meetings.
The supporters group are urging the university to drop the charges against the proterstors and to adopt a real Freedom of Speech Policy that doesn't allow criminalisation of peaceful protest. Lancaster University Students' Union also supports this call.
seeds for change