The University of Westminster has launched disciplinary action against the president of its Palestine Society after she took part in an anti-Prevent protest on campus.
International Relations student Farah Koutteineh will face a disciplinary hearing on Tuesday morning after being accused of distributing material which is “offensive, intimidating, threatening, indecent or illegal.” She has also been accused of “violent, indecent, disorderly, threatening or offensive behaviour or language… on the University premises or whilst engaged in any University activity.”
In April around 30 students at the University of Westminster’s Islamic and Palestine Societies held a week-long series of events to protest against anti-Muslim discrimination.
The students said the university authorities were restricting their freedom of speech through their implementation of the Prevent counter terrorism strategy.
Koutteineh told 5Pillars that the accusations against her were nonsense. She said: “I was shocked when I received the letter. The action that we did against Prevent was collective action, but they are singling me out because I am the President of the Palestine Society and they are trying to intimidate me. But this is not going to stop me. I will continue until the university has implemented our demands and so far they haven’t implemented one of them.”
Among the students’ demands are that the university:
- Stops discrimination based on ethnicity, religion or political opinions.
- Upholds freedom of speech.
- Dismisses the Interfaith Advisor, Yusuf Kaplan.
Prevent counter terror strategy
The government’s Prevent strategy obliges public sector officials to look out for the so-called “signs of radicalisation.” In practise this means that a disproportionate number of Muslims are being referred to the counter terror authorities by schools, hospitals and other public sector institutions, often on mere suspicion alone.
In universities – which are supposed to be bastions of free speech – Prevent has had a chilling effect. At the University of Westminster the Islamic and Palestine Societies say they are unable to operate freely because their events and speakers are being restricted.
Following the April protest an article appeared in the Daily Mail which attacked Koutteineh as a “middle class cheerleader for terrorist groups.” She says that she has had to change her lifestyle and go to the police as a result of the abuse she has received since the article appeared.
Meanwhile, a petition in support of Koutteineh is being distributed online.
It says: The University of Westminster has seriously mistaken its priorities. The University has started a disciplinary process against Farah, a student activist involved in the Westminster Students for Palestine Society and Students Not Suspects campaign. This comes at a time when students from a number of different societies at the University have been raising concerns about the discriminatory implementation of various policies, all of them linked to the Government’s Prevent agenda.
“Students have been raising concerns around discrimination, Islamophobia, and racism at the University. Concerns and demands have been raised especially with regards to the management of prayer rooms (removing CCTV and ID scanners) and the excessive restrictions on and attempts at cancellation of events organised by some student societies, because of their politics, and being led by People of Colour.
“Following the entirely legitimate protest, Farah and other activists (mainly People of Colour), faced slanderous reporting by the Daily Mail and other outlets, with its notorious deluge of hate mail and abuse on social media targeted against Farah. The University and Students’ Union remained silent on the matter of their duty of care towards Farah, who had participated in legitimate campaigning activity on campus.
“The University has not met any of the campaign’s demands. Instead, they are taking one student to a disciplinary… the manner in which the University is dealing with the student is unacceptable. It amounts to further intimidation against a campaign protesting everyday discriminatory, surveillance and intimidation. We call on the University to immediately drop the disciplinary charges against Farah.”
For its part, the University of Westminster says it is striking a fine balance between the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, ensuring freedom of speech and protecting academic freedom.