Freedom of speech

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Groped, Taunted and Followed Home: The Legal Observers of Protests Targeted by Officers for Peacefully Policing the Police

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 24/05/2022 - 6:00pm in

Josiah Mortimer digs into a shocking new report on the challenges faced by those trying to defend our right to protest


Legal observers have described being groped, followed home and spied on by police in a new report on the state of protest oversight in Britain.

The Article 11 Trust – set up to defend protest rights – has published shocking research into the treatment of legal observers by the police. 

While legal observers do not have formal legal status, their role is internationally recognised by the UN Human Rights Committee as necessary for the exercise of the right to peacefully assemble. They are often seen in high vis jackets at protests, handing out ‘Know Your Rights’ cards to activists and providing support to those arrested.

But police monitoring groups fear that they are targeted in the UK by hostile police officers – with legal observers who are females and people of colour at particular risk. 

The report, 'Protecting Protest – Police Treatment of Legal Observers in Britain', draws on the experiences of nearly 40 legal observers in Britain, a significant proportion of them still undertaking the role. They highlighted harassment, violence and discrimination by officers while monitoring police behaviour at protests. 

Several high-profile cases of police mistreatment of these volunteers have emerged over the past two years.

Last March, Greater Manchester Police sparked outrage after a woman was seen stripped down to her underwear and carried away by officers, during a 'Kill the Bill' protest. And following an incident on 1 May last year, three legal observers lodged complaints of assault against Greater Manchester Police, including one allegation of sexual assault where “a male officer grabbed a female legal observer’s chest”. On two occasions that day, an observer witnessed police pushing “two women [observers] very forcefully”. 

Sexist Policing

The Article 11 Trust found that more than half – 56% – of the legal observers interviewed faced gender-based discrimination from the police, ranging from patronising comments to sexual assault.

The vast majority of those interviewed also said that they had been deliberately obstructed in their work by the police, with participants describing being misled, threatened with arrest, or subject to use of force to limit their effectiveness. 

One woman – who stopped doing legal observing before the pandemic – told Byline Times that she was often intimidated by police at protests, in her eyes deliberately.

“At the G8 Summit in Cardiff [in 2014], I was parking my car and I was greeted by police officers. They knew I was going... I’ve been asked to leave places, and then followed. I have seen sexual assaults. You don’t have to grab women by the chests, you can grab them by the shoulders. You don’t have to intimidate them through physical contact.

“It’s the ‘innocent’ little conversations from officers: ‘hi Janie, how are you?’ when I hadn’t said my name. And calling me ‘love’. The Met Police’s intelligence on legal observers is appalling. There’s no guidance, and no training."  

One complainant said: “I am petite in size and find the male officers use their size to intimidate... At an anti-fracking demo, male officers were pressing themselves up against my back as well as female activists. It was disgusting and made me feel sick.” 

Another added: “I’ve witnessed sexualised actions by police, mainly on women – being grabby, lifting items of clothing... I have been followed and filmed by the evidence 'gatherers'."

Another observer interviewed for the report also said that they had been followed home – in their understanding, by a police officer – after observing a protest.

On one occasion "this really big male officer was shoving his body against me and kept saying that I couldn't touch him and to stop touching him – I wasn't," one female legal observer told the report's authors. "But if I pushed back I could have faced being arrested.” She said she was “shaking” after the incident.

Byline Times cannot verify the interviewees’ claims, but the Article 11 Trust says that all the testimonies are from legal observers with decades of collective experience monitoring demonstrations. 

Targeting Minorities

Racialised groups, including those at Black Lives Matter and Palestine solidarity protests, are more harshly policed than others, observers told the report's authors.

In March this year, four Black Protest Legal Support (BPLS) observers – three of whom were non-white – were arrested under Coronavirus regulations at a London demonstration against the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The observers condemned the move as “an attack on vital community movements that hold the police to account”.

In a recent essay, two members of Black Protest Legal Support – Patricia Daley and Queenie Djan – explained how “the police’s interaction with black and brown protestors and legal observers alike has been starkly different to their interaction with white protestors”.

They described police repeatedly threatening and mocking black and brown observers for noting officers' badge numbers. 



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Who Polices the Police?

The report found that the policing of protest across Britain is “inconsistent” and influenced by the opinions and prejudices of senior officers – in other words, whether local police chiefs back the demonstrators or not.

The Article 11 Trust submitted Freedom of Information requests to the National Police Chiefs Council (NPCC), the College of Policing (CoP) and 17 police forces across the UK for any documentation or policy relating to legal observers. Of the 15 responses it received, Police Scotland was the only force to formally recognise observers’ roles. 

The Tactical Aid Unit within Greater Manchester Police, London's Metropolitan Police, the Ministry of Defence, Police Scotland and Merseyside Police were identified as particularly hostile towards legal observers and protests more generally. 

Griff Ferris, a volunteer with the monitoring group Black Protest Legal Support, was arrested by the Met Police at a Kill the Bill demonstration in London last April – despite being clearly identified as a legal observer. 

“Under the COVID regulations, there was an exemption for doing work, and that includes voluntary work," he told Byline Times. "We spoke to the police... they said they didn’t care. They were told from ‘higher up’ that legal observers didn’t have an exemption." He was arrested, held overnight, and strip-searched after refusing to give his personal information. 

Police scrutiny group Netpol is warning that, with the passing of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act this year, the protest landscape is set to worsen – and independent observers’ presence is “needed more than ever".

Emmanuelle Andrews, policy and campaigns manager at human rights group Liberty, told Byline Times that the reports of observers' experiences were “extremely concerning”. “Protest is a key way we can have our voices heard – and legal observers play a vital role in protecting the right to protest, ensuring the police act within the law and keeping people safe," she told Byline Times.

“If the police and Government believe that they are respecting protest rights, they should welcome the scrutiny that legal observers bring. Instead of giving the police more powers which are being routinely abused – particularly against women and people of colour – the Government should roll-back the powers of the police to prevent these kinds of abuses taking place.”

A spokesperson for Netpol said: “The National Police Chiefs Council must end the kind of aggressive treatment this report has documented – and properly recognise that the right to monitor the actions of the police is an essential part of protecting human rights.”

The National Police Chiefs Council, the College of Policing and the Home Office did not respond to requests for comment. 




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Government ‘Inconsistency’ On Free Speech

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 16/03/2022 - 9:40pm in

Government ‘Inconsistency’On Free Speech

Ruth Smeeth of Index on Censorship tells Sian Norris her concerns about a raft of contradictory Government policies on freedom of expression, as the Online Safety Bill returns to Parliament


The Government has “no ideological consistency” in its approach to free speech, Chief Executive of Index on Censorship Ruth Smeeth told Byline Times.

Speaking in advance of the organisation’s 50th Anniversary, Smeeth expressed her concerns that a raft of Government bills tackling issues of free speech contradict one another, including the Online Safety Bill which will be published on 17 March, the Policing Bill, the review of the Human Rights Act, and the proposed changes to the Official Secrets Act.

Smeeth also discussed the global challenges for freedom of expression coming from Russia and its allies in Belarus, and from China. 

But she was clear that there is hope in the bravery of people fighting for the right to speak and challenge repressive regimes. “When we look back to the last 50 years,” Smeeth explained, “we had Vaclav Haval write for us from prison and then he became President. There are really extraordinary people writing for us about the issues they face from China, Belarus – people who keep fighting even when they are in prison. Hope is in those people”.

Contradictions in Government

The Online Safety Bill – which is to be published in full this week – has been promoted by the Government as a way to tackle issues such as online abuse and to protect children from harmful and extremist content. 

But anti-censorship campaigners have expressed concerns about both unintended and intended consequences on free speech. 

This includes the risk of racial profiling, with existing means of removing harmful content disproportionately likely to delete posts written in Arabic and in Afro-Caribbean patios. 

“I’ve got huge concerns,” said Smeeth. “First of all because the Government is passing responsibility for what is and isn’t acceptable language to Silicon Valley – it is they who will be deciding what it is acceptable to say in the UK. They’re going to be small-c conservative, so they will over-censor and over-delete”.

Smeeth gives the example of one MP suggesting “rape” joins the list of words that could be flagged as harmful content. A well-meaning gesture in the context of rape threats, “but what about women going on social media to discuss their experiences of rape?” she asks. 

The focus on harmful content also ignores the ways in which extremist groups game language and come up with new signals to communicate their hateful message. Think of how the ‘okay’ and glass of milk emojis becoming white power symbols, for example, or the use of Pepe the Frog memes to communicate a political standpoint. “I worry we will end up with new speech codes,” Smeeth said.  

Ending anonymity to try and tackle online abuse has also provoked concern. Smeeth, who endured horrific online abuse when she was a Labour MP, knows all too well the pain and distress of this kind of targeting. But, she explained, “hardly any of the people targeting me were anonymous – they didn’t have to be and they didn’t care enough to hide who they were”. 

She’s concerned that people with a very real need to be anonymous, such as LGBTIQ people in conservative communities who are seeking solidarity online, or political dissidents trying to get news out of their country to the wider world, will lose their spaces to communicate. 


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The Online Safety Bill is one of numerous bills that have been criticised for clamping down on freedom of expression. Alongside it is the controversial Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which seeks to restrict the right to protest and gives police draconian powers to shut protests down if they are too noisy or disruptive. It also allows the police to pre-emptively ban individuals from attending protests, and criminalises “locking on” – when a protester attaches themselves to a piece of infrastructure or another person. 

The bill flies in the face of the Government’s criticism of so-called “cancel culture” and its approach to free speech on campus. A white paper published last year sought to protect freedom of expression in universities and quoted ADF International – a branch of the US organisation Alliance Defending Freedom which has been called a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre for its anti-LGBTIQ beliefs – raising the question of who this Government thinks free speech is for. 

“Students will be allowed to protest at universities,” said Smeeth, “as they should be. But if they try to protest outside Westminster, under this new bill they could get arrested if they’re too noisy. It’s so incoherent”.

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International Threats

Beyond the UK’s borders, freedom of expression and assembly is under threat in repressive regimes across the world.

From the targeting of women journalists including Rana Ayuub and Maria Ressa, to the arrests of pro-democracy activists such as Jimmy Lai, and the crackdown on anti-war protesters in Russia, the need for dissident voices to speak is as great as ever – but frighteningly dangerous.

One of the greatest threats identified by the Index on Censorship is China. The organisation has regularly covered threats to freedom of speech in the country ever since the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989. Today, the Chinese Government’s control over speech and protest is hegemonic within the nation – and it has moved beyond the country’s own borders. 

“We are seeing the pressure of the Chinese Government on academic freedom even here in the UK,” Smeeth told Byline Times. “Chinese students studying here have to check in with the embassy once a month and universities are changing the way they teach Chinese history. In France, the Chinese Government put pressure on a museum to cancel an exhibition about Genghis Khan. Even the Disney movie Mulan faced pressure to cast a Han Chinese lead in order to fit the Government’s narrative about China’s history”. 

One of the worst examples of the crackdown on free speech is in Hong Kong, where pro-democracy activists have been jailed and a new security law that severely restricts the right to protest and the right to freedom of expression. 

But even in these extreme pressures, those who are fighting for democracy in Hong Kong and China continue to resist. “We have a duty to get their stories out into the world and to keep shining a spotlight on these issues so people in China know they are not alone,” Smeeth explained. “That is the ultimate form of solidarity”. 




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Ukrainian Museum Director Arrested in Attack on Culture

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 11/03/2022 - 10:18pm in

Ukrainian Museum Director Arrested inATTACK ON UKRAINE CULTURE

Byline Times talks to Susie Symes, Chair of the Museum of Immigration, about the arrest of Leyla Ibragimova and what it tells us about how authoritarian and repressive regimes attack culture and memory


Leyla Ibragimova, deputy of Zaporizhia Regional Council and the Director of the Melitopol History Museum in Ukraine has been arrested by Russian forces, according to reports on Twitter, by the Svidomi news website, and on the Interfax-Ukraine news agency. 

The arrest was also reported on Facebook by Eskender Bariyev, Head of the Crimean Tatar Resource Centre. Bariyev’s post reported how at 6 am, a group of plain-clothes Russian men broke into Ibragimova’s house, conducted a search, took her phones, before she was “taken to an unknown direction”. Her arrest has also been referred to as a kidnapping.

Leyla Ibragimova is from the indigenous Crimean minority group. The ethnic group has for a long-time been a target of Russian repression, alongside efforts to erase their history.

Susie Symes, Chair of the Museum of Immigration at 19 Princelet Street, told Byline Times that the targeting of cultural figures and symbols is “a way of destroying people’s connectivity with ideas, with place and with each other. It’s breaking up those linkages”. 

That Ibragimova is a Museum director is specifically significant. Good museums, said Symes, “recognise that there isn’t a single story. They explore history, they explore contested and complex ideas. Authoritarian regimes and occupying powers absolutely do not want that to happen. They want to impose a single story. So it’s not a surprise that repressive regimes turn on museums, as museums are the holders of history and culture”.  

Ibragimova is the first known civilian to have been arrested in Melitopol since the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russian forces are reportedly searching the homes of Crimean-Tartars in the occupied territories adjacent to Crimea.

The city in the south of Ukraine was attacked by Russian forces on 25 February. Despite Ukraine forces reclaiming the city during the fighting that followed, since 1 March it has been under Russian control. 



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An Attack on Free Thought

The arrest of Ibragimova offers a chilling echo from history, as Russian forces launch an attack on Ukraine’s cultural heritage as well as its people and cities. 

During the 1930s, Stalin launched an assault on Ukraine’s cultural heritage, as Ukrainian poets, thinkers and intellectuals were arrested, sent to the Gulag or sentenced to death. 

In the decade leading up to the purges, Ukraine in the 1920s was a period of creative experimentalism and excitement, as after years of subjugation under Tsarist Russia, the country sought to embolden its national identity. The period was dubbed the “Ukraine Renaissance” – but soon that renaissance fell under Stalin’s axe. 

Throughout the 1930s, the Soviet Union launched a campaign to remove and exterminate Ukraine’s intelligentsia, with 223 writers imprisoned or executed during the Great Purge of 1938. Some estimate that up to 30,000 Ukrainian intellectuals were repressed during the purges, and the number of literary works published by Ukrainians dropped from 259 writers in 1930 to 36 in 1938. 

Among those targeted was the poet Ievhen Pluzhnyk who was sentenced to death in 1935, although his sentence was later reduced to imprisonment in a concentration camp where he died within the year. 

During the same period, the Soviet Union committed genocide against the Ukrainian people with the Holodomor, when millions died in a man-made famine. 

Symes referred to Perm 36 – the gulag museum which in 2014 was taken over in what many saw as a way to erase the history of political repression it was designed to memorialise. “It was cleansed of all its uncomfortable references,” Syme explained. “There was a period of time in Russia where it was looking back to an awful period in its history and trying to make things better. Closing that discussion down is an absolute tactic of authoritarian regimes”. 

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Genocidal Acts

The targeting of cultural heritage during war and conflict has been considered a form of genocide, making the arrest of Ibragimova even more concerning. 

A policy briefing published by the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) explains how “crimes against and affecting cultural heritage are a pervasive feature of the atrocities within the [ICC]’s jurisdiction. Willful attacks on cultural heritage constitute a centuries-old practice that remains a feature of modern conflict”. 

Such crimes, the briefing continued, “constitute, first and foremost, an attack on a particular group’s identity and practices, but in addition, an attack on an essential interest of the entire international community”.

This was the approach of Stalin’s regime as it persecuted Ukraine’s cultural heritage in the 1930s. In more recent years, Daesh’s destruction of historic monuments such as the ancient structures in Palmyra, and the Taliban’s bombing of the Bamiyan Buddhas, have been labelled as a acts of cultural genocide. 

“Human history is full of attacks on cultural symbols simply as a way to repress opposition,” said Symes, citing Henry VIII’s destruction of the monasteries as a UK example. 

Putin’s speech given before the invasion focused on how an independent Ukraine’s status as a sovereign nation was unacceptable, that the former Soviet republics shouldn’t have left the USSR, and an independent Ukraine should not exist. This denial of the country’s right to existence is, in itself, a genocidal threat. 

Symes believes the cultural sector has a role to play in showing solidarity to individuals and spaces under attack by ensuring it “holds on to the freedoms to tell multiple stories and not be neutral in exploring ideas and complexity. We may be almost powerless to impact what is happening in Ukraine but we are not powerless in making sure we uphold our values in our own spaces”.




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Kershnar Cycle Reactivated (several updates)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 04/02/2022 - 12:18am in

Every few years, it seems, someone new will learn of the work of philosopher Stephen Kershnar (SUNY Fredonia), share their shock, amusement, or outrage about it on social media, and cause a brief spike in amazed, angry, or humorous commentary about it. Then people move on and tend to forget about it… until someone new learns of it and just has to share it. Call it the Kershnar Cycle.

Kershnar Cycles, like hurricanes, come in varying strengths. Typically they’re initiated by a philosopher and their reach does not extend much beyond other philosophers, and so they’re mild. This time, however, it’s more severe, as the cycle appears to have been initiated by a very popular social media account, @LibsofTikTok, which shared a selectively edited video of an interview with Kershnar, titles of some of his articles, and called for him to be fired.

This has led to a storm of stupid and uninformed condemnation that is now raining hate upon our colleague and putting SUNY Fredonia’s administration under a high degree of pressure to act. The president of the university, Stephen Kolison, has now issued a statement saying that “the views expressed by the professor are reprehensible and do not represent the values of SUNY Fredonia in any way, shape, or form.” But it’s not clear that Kolison knows what Kershnar’s views are.

Kershnar has made a career of being a Socratic gadfly, inquiring in a very traditional philosophical way about beliefs many tend to take for granted. He often focuses on beliefs the denial of which would be thought of as outrageous, and raises problems for their justification, or shows how rather unpopular beliefs might be justifiable. You can browse some of his works here.

The fuss this time concerns Kershnar’s writings about the basis of prohibitions regarding sex between adults and children. I have not read his book on the topic, but it appears that Kershnar raises problems for the justification of those prohibitions. He says, “The sex intuitively strikes many people, including myself, as sick, disgusting, and wrong. The problem is that it is not clear whether these judgments are justified and whether they are aesthetic or moral.” Kershnar appears to argue that prohibitions on adult-child sex cannot be justified on the basis of consent (or its absence). As it’s rather common to explain the wrongness of sex between adults and children in terms of the childrens’ lack of or inability to consent, Kershnar is indeed taking aim at a rather popular view. But the upshot of this is not that sex between adults and children is permissible. Rather, Kershnar seems to be saying, prohibitions against adult-child sex are better grounded on the harm such sex involves, or the harms that might be brought about by not prohibiting it. He also appears to withhold judgment on the question of whether all such instances of sexual activity are necessarily harmful.

Of course, regardless of what one may think of his conclusions, Professor Kershnar’s work is professional and protected by academic freedom and freedom of speech. He quite clearly ought not be fired. 

Raising questions about sacred beliefs is one of the ways philosophy is especially valuable. That Kershnar has dedicated his career to this value (in ways that may have been personally or professionally costly to him) gives his fellow philosophers a further reason, apart from academic freedom, to defend him, even if they disagree with his conclusions or dislike his mode of argumentation.

UPDATE 1 (2/3/22): Fredonia President Stephen H. Kolison, Jr. this afternoon announced that “effective immediately,” Professor Kershnar “is being assigned to duties that do not include his physical presence on campus and will not have contact with students while the investigation is ongoing.” Professor Kershnar was informed of this via the university’s office of human resources, in a letter that says:

Effective immediately and until further notice, pursuant to Article 19.11(c) of the Agreement between the United University Professions and the State of New York, you are to perform an alternate work assignment from an alternate location. During your alternate assignment, you are directed not to be on college property, or have contact with the campus community, except for the following: Human Resources, Dean Karafa, Provost Starrett, University Police, and your union representative. If you need to interact with other members of the campus community, you must first contact the Director of Human Resources, in writing, with your request and wait for approval to proceed.

In the meanwhile, Kershnar has been receiving a significant amount of hate mail.

UPDATE 2 (2/3/22): For those curious, here is a summary of Kershnar’s views about the topic of the legality and morality of adult-child sex, based on materials he sent me (the material in quotes is directly from his book):

    • There are good reasons to think that adult-child sex should be illegal.
    • Consequentialist moral theories can provide an explanation for the wrongness of adult-child sex that is harmful, and while “when both participants are willing, the risk of long term harm is unclear,” at least “in some cases (for example, force, genital contact, and father figures) there is risk of significant harm.” “Child rape and incest both… are extremely harmful.”
    • On non-consequentialist moral theories, the moral status of adult-child sex is unclear.

[Be sure to see Update 8, below.]

UPDATE 3 (2/4/22): The Academic Freedom Alliance, an organization that “will in appropriate circumstances aid in providing legal support to faculty members whose constitutionally, statutorily, contractually, or other legally protected rights to academic freedom have been violated or are under threat,” has written a letter to the administration of SUNY Fredonia in support of Professor Kershnar. An excerpt:

Professor Kershnar’s scholarly research and teaching on these topics is fully protected by principles of academic freedom and his public discussion of his ideas on these issues is protected by principles of freedom of speech. There is, quite simply, nothing for the university to review under these circumstances. The university’s obligation in the face of this controversy is to provide a forum in which ideas, however extreme or misguided they may be or seem to be, can be articulated, criticized, and fairly debated. A member of your faculty under such public scrutiny is likely to be targeted for abuse and threats, and the university’s responsibility is to shelter the faculty member from that harassment and not add to it.

The full letter is here.

UPDATE 4 (2/4/22): The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) has sent a letter to the president of SUNY Fredonia, Stephen Kolison, in defense of Professor Kershnar. Some excerpts:

Kershnar’s statements are protected by the First Amendment, which prohibits SUNY Fredonia from taking adverse action against faculty members for protected speech, however provocative or offensive it may be to others. By banning Kershnar from campus and initiating disciplinary procedures, including an “interrogation” of Kershnar or “review” of his extramural statements, SUNY Fredonia is in violation of the First Amendment…

Some might charge that Kershnar’s views, if adopted, would be dangerous or lead to the erosion of laws criminalizing sexual abuse of minors. For his part, Kershnar’s writing on the subject has argued that sexual conduct with minors should be criminalized. His arguments generally concern why such conduct should be criminalized, with a critical evaluation of whether morality—as distinct from other reasons to prohibit it—is alone sufficient to impose criminal sanctions. Yet even if Kershnar’s critics are correct in their estimation of his argument, Kershnar’s speech would still be protected by the First Amendment…

We urge you to avoid effectuating a heckler’s veto by returning Kershnar to the classroom and publicly committing to protect the First Amendment rights of your faculty.

You can read the whole letter here.

UPDATE 5 (2/4/22): The SUNY Fredonia Faculty Senate will consider a resolution on Monday that “condemns Prof. Kershnar’s statements on sex with children in the strongest possible terms, finding them morally reprehensible and irresponsible.” Further details here.  [(subupdate 2/6/22): The following information was originally noted in a separate post, but I’ve moved it here, edited some of my editorializing about it, and deleted the other post.]

Here’s the text of the resolution:

It is understandable that in light of the viral spread, intitiated by a rightwing troll site, of the selectively edited video excerpts of the Kershnar interview, that some of his colleagues would wish to express their firm opposition to adult-child sex. One hopes that they take a moment to acquaint themselves with Kershnar’s views and understand the nature of his inquiries. One hopes that as professors, they understand and appreciate the importance of academic freedom and how it protects them all, and express support of their colleague’s academic freedom in any resolution they consider. One hopes that as academic researchers, they will refrain from committing themselves to unsubstantiated speculations about the effects of Kershnar’s writings and speech, and nonsensical claims about the implications of Kershnar’s work for people’s legal obligations.

UPDATE 6 (2/4/22): The hosts of Brain in a Vatthe philosophy program whose interview with Kershnar provided the material from which the viral clip of him talking was assembled, have posted a video statement about the episode. An excerpt:

He has published work saying that pedophilia should be illegal, and yet he is at the same time saying that we need to understand precisely why, and some of the common reasons that are given are not convincing enough. So Stephen is pushing us to understand why we hold such strong views on certain things, and that is really at the heart of analytic philosophy as it is applied to applied ethics and our values in our everyday lives.

While YouTube has removed the original interview with Kershnar from its site, you can listen to the whole interview here.
Sub-update 6: YouTube reversed its decision about the podcast and you can view it here.

 UPDATE 7 (2/4/22): A letter from faculty at several institutions to SUNY Fredonia President Stephen Kolison, and which is open for others to sign, has been posted by FIRE here. An excerpt:

Although you have described the video podcast as “widely shared,” in fact the podcast in which Professor Kershnar discussed arguments on ethical issues relating to sexual contact with children has not been widely viewed. What has been widely shared is a brief clip from the podcast. Universities should be places where scholars can safely engage in the task of carefully thinking through the logic and implications of arguments about ethical human behavior, and that is what Professor Kershnar and his interlocutors do in this podcast. Society will be impoverished if such inquiries cannot take place and if ideas about morality are suppressed and censored because they are unpopular or offend the sensibilities of the broader public.

The whole letter is here.

UPDATE 8 (2/4/22): In response to some emails, I thought I would share some thoughts on what Kershnar says in the podcast.

For one thing, the summary that Professor Kershnar provided (in update 2, above) of his views (which, based on excerpts of his work he also provided, seem to represent what he has written on the subject) may not function especially well as a summary of what he says in the podcast. What he says in the podcast appears to be that adult-child sexual activity is wrong either when it is against the will of the child or when it involves harm to the child. However, he says, it is not necessarily or always the case that such activity is against the will of the child and it it is not necessarily or always the case that it is harmful. His view, then, is that a blanket claim that adult-child sex is wrong is mistaken. If it turns out that most incidences of adult-child sex are against the will of the children or harmful to the children, then most incidences of adult-child sex would be wrong, but ultimately, according to Kershnar, this depends on at least partially empirical facts about willingness and harm, and these facts may vary across cases and across cultures. Child rape is always wrong, he says. What about the legality of adult-child sex? While in his book he says that the balance of reasons favors “the criminalization of willing adult-child sex,” this view does not come through clearly in the podcast. In the podcast, he says that in cases in which the reasonability of a legal prohibition of some act depends on certain facts, and there is uncertainty about those facts, then the act ought not be legally prohibited. Since Kershnar seems to voice some skepticism about some facts regarding the harmfulness of some instances of adult-child sex, it would not be unreasonable for a listener to think that he is suggesting that not all adult-child sex should be illegal. Is he suggesting that? In the podcast, it just isn’t clear.

The foregoing is a charitable sorting through of various claims made during the podcast, which was a fast-paced discussion taking place against a fair amount of background knowledge about moral philosophy and in a style familiar to philosophers but likely rather strange sounding to others. Additionally, being a live unscripted conversation, not everyone is always saying exactly what they mean, yet being a conversation among philosophers, the discussants often nonetheless hear what is meant rather than what is said, which a listener less familiar with the conversational norms of philosophers might find confusing at times. Further, the podcast itself is rather choppily edited. So, while there has been a ton of “stupid and uninformed condemnation” (quoting myself there) of Kershnar, this shouldn’t be taken to imply that all such condemnation is stupid and uninformed. I ought to have been more careful in how I put that.

While the discussion in the podcast was interesting, it was also, in my view, philosophically unsatisfying. In part this is because it relied on a rather narrow and sociologically and psychologically impoverished account of the kinds of harms worth thinking about, and a very shallow and simplistic understanding of the ways that sex, and our thoughts about sex, might affect how well our lives go, and how they might structure society in ways that affect our well-being. In my view, the problem is not only that Kershnar underestimates the strength of certain reasons why we should think adult-child sex is immoral, some of those reasons he doesn’t consider at all. But I am not going to go into that further here.

I would like to thank Jean Kazez, who emailed me to complain about the accuracy of my description of Kershnar’s views. Her remarks prompted this update to the post. At the end of her message to me, she says, “I’d like to see a more accurate picture of what the guy said and then a defense of his right to say it!” Well, I’ve done the first part of that, and I don’t have much to add to the second beyond what has already been said by me and others about the protections that academic freedom and the First Amendment afford him—even if he thinks that not all adult-child sex is wrong.

That said, one might think Kershnar ought not get fired for his views and writings but still believe there are other relevant issues. For example, in an email to FIRE and the signatories of the letter it sent out this afternooon, Victoria Balfour, a sex abuse victim’s advocate, writes:

Because sexual abuse of children is so prevalent, it is a certainty that in his 23 years of college teaching… Mr. Kershnar has taught both male and female students who were sexually assaulted as children. There is a strong possibilty that some of his current students were sexually assaulted. Can you step into the shoes of these students for one minute to understand the impact of Mr. Kershnar’s remarks on their psyche? Did anyone in your organization take into consideration the fact that in all likelihood Kersnar has taught and is teaching students who were sexually abused? Where is your defense of these students?

These are reasonable questions to ask, and I do hope they are taken up in a productive way by Professor Kershnar and his university after its investigation concludes.

UPDATE 9 (2/5/22): Some readers have asked why comments are closed on the posts about Kershnar. The short answer is that the volume and nature of the comments would make moderation of the discussion an extraordinarily onerous task.

UPDATE 10 (2/8/22) [corrected]: A version of the resolution mentioned previously (Update 5) passed in the Fredonia University Senate last night by a vote of 36-4. The Fredonia University Senate Executive Committee also released a statement which included language supporting Professor Kershnar’s academic freedom:

The Fredonia University Senate is committed to the principles of academic freedom and freedom of speech. These principles are the foundation for scholarly and creative activities, higher education, and democratic governance. Academic freedom also confers responsibilities, including fidelity to evidence, accuracy, and intellectual honesty… The Fredonia University Senate condemns Dr. Kershnar’s statements on adult sex with children, finding them morally reprehensible and irresponsible, even as we recognize his right to make these statements.

The resolution itself also includes a recognition of Professor Kershnar’s academic freedom:

while the Fredonia University Senate supports academic freedom and Prof. Kershnar’s right to research this topic as well as his first amendment rights to speak on this topic, the Fredonia University Senate condemns Prof. Kershnar’s statements on sex with children in the strongest possible terms, finding them morally reprehensible and irresponsible.

The full statement and the resolution are below:

[Note (2/9/22): the content of this update originally referred to and contained an image of a draft of the resolution. The update has now been corrected so that it contains the actual resolution passed and the “Executive Committee Statement,” which was endorsed separately from the resolution. Thanks to Mary Beth Sievens for the correction.]


UPDATE 11 (2/9/22): As of 12:30pm today, there are over 29,000 signatures on a student-created petition at to “fire Professor Stephen Kershnar from SUNY Fredonia.”


Police violently break up Afghan refugee protest in Indonesia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 20/01/2022 - 7:45pm in

The refugees would like either citizenship or resettlement

Originally published on Global Voices

Afgan refugees in Indoneisa have been meeting to protest perceived inaction from the UNHCR. Refugees are calling for either Indonesian citizenship, or resettlement elsewhere. Image via YouTube.

Content notice: This article contains mention of depression, suicide, and police violence.

A peaceful protest of Afghan refugees was violently broken up by police on January 17 in Pekanbaru, Indonesia, a city on the island of Sumatra. The refugees were attempting to draw international attention to their years of displacement, mistreatment, and neglect by the Indonesian government and the international community. Police dispersed the protest by beating attendees and striking them with batons. Several attendees were reportedly injured. 

The protest emerged outside of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees office because an Afghan refugee community member committed suicide on January 16. They were the 15th person to die from suicide in the community. Veronica Koman, an Amnesty International representative tweeted a video of the clash [content notice: some viewers may find the following video disturbing]: 

Some Afghan refugees have been living in limbo in Indonesia for over a decade, waiting to either receive citizenship from the Indonesian government or get approval and documents to move to another country. 

Mohammad Juma Mohseni was forced to leave Afghanistan in 2011 and has been living in Indonesia for nearly a decade. He told Gandhara news, a branch of Radio Free Europe, “[Fifteen] people have committed suicide and 10 have been prevented from committing suicide.” He added, “neither Indonesia nor the UNHCR has had a positive message for us.”

The Indonesian government is not party to the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees or the 1967 protocol intended to eliminate restrictions on who can be considered a refugee. It does not have any official asylum laws and delegates all oversight to the UNHCR office and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). There are over 13,700 Afghani refugees in Indonesia who have been there for over 10 years. 

According to the SUAKA, an Indonesian civil society organization for refugee rights, asylum seekers in Indonesia are not permitted to work, receive social benefits from the Government of Indonesia, ​​own a car or motorbike, travel outside city limits, or go to university.

The IOM covers basic living costs while they await repatriation or resettlement. 

International inattention and tragedy

Some Afghan refugees in Indonesia have been camping outside of the UNHCR building for months. Screenshot courtesy of YouTube.

Monday’s incident is the latest in a number of heartbreaking incidents in recent months as Afghan refugees desperately try to call attention to their plight in Indonesia. Some refugees have been continuously camping out outside UNHCR offices waiting for news about their resettlement and attempting to raise awareness about their situations.

A group of Afghan refugees staged a 24-hour protest outside the IOM office in Medanon on November 30, 2021. One attendee, Ahmad Shah, 22, set himself on fire in front of the building. He had been in Indonesia awaiting permanent resettlement, separated from his family and loved ones, and unable to leave the country since 2016. 

He suffered third-degree burns and was reportedly taken to a nearby private hospital until he was moved to a public one on the same day. 

UNHCR Indonesia spokesperson Dwi Prafitria Juma told The Jakarta Post the agency was “deeply concerned about” and investigating the incident.

At least two dozen Afghan refugees had previously set themselves on fire. Six survived. 

“This is the seventh person we saved who was experiencing undue stress and fighting depression from living in limbo for around seven years,” said Juma in a press conference in front of the UNHCR office.

In recent months numerous refugees in Indonesia have sewn their mouths shut as a form of civil disobedience and protest.

In an interview with the Voice of America news agency the founder of Solidarity Indoenisa for Refugees (SIR), Ali Yusef, explained that Indonesia's refugees feel forced to take such extreme measures because they feel silenced and unheard. He worries for their mental health and urged UNHCR representatives to take immediate action.

The facts on the ground are that the UNHCR is less responsive to the fate of refugees in Indonesia. The proof is that they are not able to communicate with UNHCR when they want. … Don't let their delay mean the refugees who are sewing their mouths can injure themselves or even take their own lives. In the name of humanity UNHCR, please meet them. Explain that UNHCR is looking for a solution for them.

He added, “The world will judge Indonesia to be indifferent to international citizens.”

Both the UNHCR and IOM are responsible for managing refugees in Indonesia until they can be moved to another more permanent location. Both have been accused of neglecting and mishandling refugee affairs in the past. 

Before the Taliban came to power in August 2021, Indonesia housed the fourth-largest number of Afghan refugees in the world — behind Iran, Pakistan, and India. Most of these refugees intended to stop in Indonesia only temporarily until they could reach Australia. However, in 2013, Australia closed its borders to refugees and asylum seekers. Many were left stateless and stranded in Indonesia without recourse.

The situation has worsened since Kabul fell in August 2021. Experts say the situation in Afghanistan is likely exasperating feelings of helplessness that many Afghan refugees already deal with. It has also crushed their slim hopes of potentially returning to their home country and made it even more unlikely they will get rehoused, due to added influx of new refugees who have fled the Taliban.

Additionally, many countries have lowered the number of refugees they accept in recent years, and during the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of resettled refugees has reached a 20-year low, according to the UNHCR. The organization found that 160 countries had closed their borders at some point during the pandemic in 2020, with 99 states making no exceptions for people seeking protection.

As a result, many refugees are finding it impossible to relocate to a third country or attain stability.

For years, refugee advocacy organizations have been calling for improved conditions in Indonesia, though those calls have not received much traction. In the meantime, citizens are doing what they can and using the hashtag #HelpRefugees_Indonesia on Twitter and social media, as a rallying call to support refugees. 

In a petition, discussing the situation Afghan refugees face in Indonesia, Musa Zafar wrote:

Their most basic fundamental rights, which are emphasized in international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are systematically infringed on a daily basis. Their freedom of movement, education, employment, and political and social rights have been ignored. These people have been forgotten and the world has turned a blind eye to their crisis.

The Global Religious Right Network Behind the Gay Marriage Cake Battle

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 07/01/2022 - 10:28pm in

The Global Religious Right NetworkBehind the Gay Marriage Cake Battle

The long-running case featured interventions from an international network of ‘religious freedom’ giants in the US and Europe – showing the power of the global anti-rights movement


A seven-year legal battle between LGBTIQ rights activist Gareth Lee and a Belfast bakery over its refusal to bake a cake with the message “support gay marriage” came to an end this week, after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled that Lee’s claim was inadmissable.

The case became a battle over freedom of speech and religion, with debate raging as to whether the bakery had the right to refuse to make a cake supporting gay marriage on religious grounds.

It also attracted the attention of international religious right organisations with a history of campaigning against LGBTIQ rights and equal marriage, many of them from the US; as well as religious-right organisations from Poland, where human rights are increasingly under attack.

This is how a small bakery in Belfast became a flashpoint for a global campaign coordinated by international organisations working to roll-back LGBTIQ rights.



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Baker, Baker, Bake Me A Cake

Gareth Lee had requested that Ashers Bakery, run by evangelical Christians the McArthurs, make a cake with the pro-equal marriage slogan and a picture of Sesame Street characters Bert and Ernie. It refused.

A series of court cases followed, leading to a Court of Appeal hearing that decided that the bakery had discriminated against Lee. The McArthurs appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the previous decision. 

Lee then took his case to the ECHR. The court found that it would not be able to hear the case as Lee had not expressly invoked his rights under the European Convention on Human Rights at any point during proceedings in the UK and had relied solely on domestic law.

A number of third-party intervenors took part in the case, representing global religious-right organisations, including two which originate in the US. 

These were the European arms of Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF International) and the American Centre for Law and Justice (operating in Europe as the European Centre for Law and Justice or ECLJ). The latter, which was set up by conservative firebrand Pat Robertson, has as its chief counsel former Donald Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow. It was granted permission to intervene in the case but chose not to submit a third-party intervention. 

ADF was set up in Arizona in 1993 with an aim to “defend your religious freedom”. It does this through a global network of lawyers and strategic litigation, challenging existing laws and assisting in cases relating to free speech. The organisation has been designated as a “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Centre for its anti-LGBTIQ campaigning – a designation the organisation disputes. 

Between 2009 and 2018, ADF spent $1.57 billion in Europe and in 2012 launched ADF International with offices in Vienna, Strasbourg, Brussels, Geneva and London.

The UK branch recorded an income of more than £500,000 in 2020, with “financial support in the form of unrestricted donations from Alliance Defending Freedom, a linked charity in the US which operates under the same principles as ADF International (UK)”. Those donations totalled £324,000. Because it is unrestricted, the money can be spent on any campaign the organisation conducts in the UK. 

ADF International has exerted increasing influence on mainstream politics in the UK. Its survey on campus free speech was cited in a Department for Education white paper published last year. The Conservative MP and co-chair of the pro-life All-Party Parliamentary Group Fiona Bruce spoke at its “leadership academy” in Vienna in 2019. 

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Sian Norris

ADF International’s submission in the Ashers Bakery case argued that it had the right “not to express an opinion or to act contrary to one’s religious beliefs”.

This was not the first time ADF had argued in favour of bakers refusing to make a gay marriage cake. In 2012, it supported Jack Phillips in Colorado, who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. ADF took the cake case to the US Supreme Court, arguing that Phillips should not be forced to bake a cake celebrating an event that conflicted with his religious beliefs. 

The parallels between the Colorado and Belfast cases demonstrate how US religious freedom giants are importing successful strategies across the Atlantic in cases relating to LGBTIQ rights. 

Back in 2017, ADF International’s director Paul Coleman wrote in Spiked magazine that both the Ashers and Philips cases represented a “fork in the road for freedom”. Spiked magazine’s US funding arm received donations from the Charles Koch Foundation, which has a history of funding religious-freedom causes.

From Belfast to Warsaw 

Also Supporting Ashers Bakery was the Christian Institute, an “ally” of ADF International. The Institute runs a legal defence fund to “protect Christian religious freedom and restrain those who are unlawfully harassing and discriminating against Christian believers”.

In a statement published on its website, Institute spokesman Simon Calvert welcomed the ECHR’s decision as “the right result”.

“The UK Supreme Court engaged at length with the human rights arguments in this case and upheld the McArthurs’ rights to freedom of expression and religion,” he said. “It was disappointing to see another attempt to undermine those rights, so it is a relief that the attempt has failed. I’m surprised anyone would want to overturn a ruling that protects gay business owners from being forced to promote views they don’t share, just as much as it protects Christian business owners.”

ADF International has supported the Christian Institute on previous occasions, including in a case involving registrar Lilian Ladele in London who asked to be exempt from registering same-sex civil partnerships. A tribunal ruled in favour of Ladele after representation by the Christian Institute, but the decision was reversed on appeal. The case was taken to the ECHR, where ADF International was granted permission to intervene. 

Gareth Lee lost his case against Ashers Bakery over an equal marriage cake. Photo: PA Images/Alamy

Alongside ADF International and the Christian Institute at the ECHR was the Polish Government, which intervened in the case to argue that “obliging a person to express a belief he or she does not hold amounts to a restriction of rights” according to Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights.  

Poland’s attitude towards LGBTIQ people has been under the spotlight over the past few years, with President Andrezj Duda running on a socially-conservative platform in the 2020 election. Around 100 towns in the country have declared themselves as LGBT-free zones, while gay couples are banned from adopting children. The influential Archbishop of Krakow, Marek Jedraszewski, has condemned “LGBT ideology” as a “rainbow plague, worse than Bolshevism”.

Also representing Poland was Ordo Iuris – a a Catholic think tank that in 2016 drafted a bill to completely ban abortion in the country and supported 2021’s move to further restrict abortion in Poland so that it is only available in cases of rape and incest or threat to the mother’s life. Although it was permitted to intervene, it did not submit its intervention.

Ordo Iuris is linked to ADF via Agenda Europe – a shadowy network active during the 2010s with plans to “restore the natural order” by rolling-back abortion and LGBTIQ rights. Ordo Iuris hosted the 2015 Agenda Europe summit in 2015. At the 2014 Agenda Europe Summit, ADF International’s Paul Coleman co-led a training session on how NGOs can bring their agenda to “international and supranational institutions” such as the European Court of Human Rights. 




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The post The Global Religious Right Network Behind the Gay Marriage Cake Battle appeared first on Byline Times.

Cambridge Faculty of Divinity Ignores Demands for Inquiry into Peter Thiel’s Far-Right Influence

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 24/12/2021 - 1:57am in

Cambridge Faculty of DivinityIgnores Demands for Inquiry intoPeter Thiel’s Far-Right Influence

Cambridge University fails to answer questions raised by staff and students after Byline Times’ revelation that racist pseudoscience is being promoted on campus under the guise of ‘freedom of speech’


Staff and students at the University of Cambridge have launched multiple campaigns demanding that the university conduct a formal inquiry into the influence of Peter Thiel and the far-right on a network of academics at the institution, following a series of special investigations by Byline Times.

However, it appears that their demands have fallen on deaf ears.

This newspaper’s investigations revealed the role of the chief of staff of Thiel Capital, Charles Vaughan, in cultivating an anti-liberal network of academics who have hosted alt-right figure Jordan Peterson and white nationalist extremist Charles Murray in the name of ‘free speech’. 

Murray is a pioneer of scientific racism and eugenics who argues that black people have lower IQs than white people for genetic and environmental reasons. The bulk of the research he cites on race and IQ was funded by the Pioneer Fund, a Nazi eugenics foundation.

Peterson is a supporter of Murray’s work and has openly expressed his sympathies for scientific racism on the podcast show of another white nationalist extremist, Stefan Molyneux. 

In both cases, the ideas being discussed have been largely discredited across scientific literature and shown to be based on a dishonest approach to research – as, for instance, one expert in the American Behavioral Scientist journal observed about Murray’s 1994 book, The Bell Curve.

“I believe this book is a fraud, that its authors must have known it was a fraud when they were writing it, and that Charles Murray must still know it’s a fraud as he goes around defending it,” observed anthropologist Professor Michael Nunley. “By ‘fraud,’ I mean a deliberate, self-conscious misrepresentation of the evidence. After careful reading, I cannot believe its authors were not acutely aware of what they were including and what they were leaving out, and of how they were distorting the material they did include.”

On 3 December, staff and students at Cambridge University’s Faculty of Divinity published an open letter, signed by more than 200 people, accusing the department of failing to abide by its commitment to “stand in solidarity with our BAME (black, Asian and minority ethnic) students and with our BAME colleagues”. The letter noted that the department had released a statement in 2020 after the murder of George Floyd in the US promising that “we are challenging ourselves – both staff and students – to think more deeply about race and to learn from those who have been marginalised”.

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The open letter expressed urgent concerns based on Byline Times’ first report that Faculty of Divinity scholar Dr James Orr had “extended a (presumably ‘personal’) invitation to Charles Murray, notorious author of The Bell Curve“. It went on to state that “Murray’s positions on genetics, intelligence and the alleged ‘dysgenic pressure’ of immigration are patently adjacent to eugenicist pseudoscience… The threat to students of colour and other minorities, represented by Murray’s invitation, once again stands completely at odds with the faculty’s explicit commitment to its minority students. As with Peterson’s invitation, the faculty’s silence concerning Dr Orr’s hosting of Charles Murray cannot be reconciled with its purportedly active solidarity”.

The open letter also referred to Dr Orr’s involvement in the Free Speech Union, citing a previous Byline Times investigation that confirmed its involvement in promoting scientific racism and white identity politics. 

It said: “In the case of both these invitations, we are tending toward a ‘freedom of speech’ that is nothing other than a freedom to promote racist views, as well as to deny the viability of racism as both theoretical concept and lived reality. As the same recent reporting has shown, this affiliation of ‘free speech’ activism and racism is indeed institutional. In particular, the Free Speech Union (of whose ‘advisory council’ Dr Orr is a member) enjoys an uncomfortable association with racism and eugenics.”

On 14 December, following Byline Times’ revelations about Peter Thiel’s involvement in Cambridge University’s hosting of Jordan Peterson and Charles Murray, staff and students escalated their demands – calling for a formal investigation by the university into far-right influence on campus. 

“The invitations to Peterson and Murray were not isolated events,” said a new petition signed by 185 people. “The investigation reveals how James Orr, together with other members of the faculty and wider university, are part of an organised network, formed with the direct involvement of Peter Thiel’s chief of staff, Charles Vaughan.”

The open letter noted that these individuals are working with a network of institutions, such as the Free Speech Union, to influence UK higher education policy. They are “seeding an ideology that is fundamentally, indeed deliberately hostile, to the university’s aims and values, as expressed inter alia in its equality and diversity policy,” it stated. “The repercussions of the work of this fifth column affect the entire university environment and even the whole of higher education in the UK.”

The open letter concluded: “In addition to our original call for action from the Divinity Faculty, we are calling for a university investigation (with the assistance of any relevant third parties) into the revelations of the Byline Times article.”

The new petition by Cambridge University staff and students highlighted “safeguarding concerns” over the risk of students being “groomed” into far-right ideology and demanded that the university look into whether Trinity Forum Europe – a Christian charity which was hosted, through both Peterson and Murray, for Cambridge staff and students – is “a centre for radicalisation activity within Cambridge”. 

It also called for the university to find out whether academics had received funding from Peter Thiel and how this might have made Cambridge University “a more suitable home for far-right ideology”.

Cambridge University Remains Silent

A separate open letter signed by 65 students was sent to Cambridge University’s Faculty of English. It noted that conversations in the ‘Thiel network’ had increasingly focused on the need to push back against classic ‘culture war’ issues such as abortion and transgender rights.

“Transphobia has no place anywhere, and those with transphobic views should never be given a platform”, the letter concluded, reiterating a call for a formal investigation into far-right influence at the university. “We stand in solidarity with all those targets of this ‘network’, particularly our trans colleagues and peers, and recognise that the agenda of this network will disproportionately affect students of marginalised genders.”

But Priyamvada Gopal, Professor of Post-Colonial Studies at Cambridge’s Faculty of English, tweeted: “A powerful, wealthy, foreign entity not connected to academia or research, mired in political power-brokering and lobbying is seeking to shape what is happening on a university campus. To do so, it has brought together academics (apparently all-male) disaffected with what they see as ‘woke’ influence on students and campus culture into a ‘network’ that extends to other universities… Among the group’s activities are sponsoring race scientists, as well as controversialists known for endorsing such race science (positing that black people are less intelligent, for instance) and attacking gender equality and transgender rights. The network also seems to include people making the ‘case for colonialism’.”

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Cambridge University’s oldest student newspaper Varsity also covered the story, noting that staff and students at the Faculties of Divinity and English were now asking about the role of this network in using ‘free speech’ to protect race science and other pseudoscientific views. 

A letter from the Head of the Faculty of Divinity circulated to staff and students in mid-December had reiterated the university’s commitment to upholding “freedom of thought and expression” and said that “all members of the faculty are against every form of intolerance, and we seek to instil an inclusive and supportive environment for all”.

However, it failed to address the allegations about the role of Peter Thiel in attempting to foster sympathies with the far-right at the university. Indeed, while promoting racist pseudoscience endorsed by white nationalists might well be an act of free speech, it is unclear how this fits with the priorities of an arts and humanities department dedicated to teaching theology or literature.

Just as concerning is the fact that Cambridge University refused to reply to questions about these issues despite multiple enquiries by Byline Times

Instead, at one of the world’s most sought-after universities, where academic and educational standards must be at their highest, ideologues are being brought in with a track record of trying to rehabilitate Nazi-inspired pseudoscience of the poorest quality. It it is difficult to understand how this, in any way, elevates critical thinking skills or people’s ability to engage in scientific thinking. Nor does it allow theology students to engage with the wonders of the latest discoveries in biology. 

While freedom of speech must be protected at higher educational institutions, it is accompanied by a question: how should this right be exercised? In a way that uncritically promotes far-right propaganda as if it is sound science – when it is precisely the opposite? And, if that is what Cambridge University is now seemingly standing for, what sort of lobbying has pushed it down that road?




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The post Cambridge Faculty of Divinity Ignores Demands for Inquiry into Peter Thiel’s Far-Right Influence appeared first on Byline Times.

‘Terrifying’ – Johnson’s Government ‘Following Far-Right Playbook’ on Crushing Dissent

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/12/2021 - 1:55am in

‘Terrifying’Johnson’s Government ‘Following Far-Right Playbook’ on Crushing Dissent

Labour peer and former Liberty director Shami Chakrabarti told Byline Times that new amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill are designed to frame people peacefully demonstrating as terrorists


The Government is following the “classic far-right playbook” by introducing new draconian measures which will result in peaceful protestors being treated like terrorists, the former director of Liberty and Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti has told Byline Times

She said that new Government amendments – introduced “out of the blue” in recent weeks – to the controversial Police, Crime and Sentencing and Courts Bill are “even worse” than the existing proposals designed to crackdown on protest. 

“They are very obviously modelled on anti-terror legislation – except they’re for protest,” the former Shadow Attorney General said.

Chakrabarti believes that the Government is following the tactics of far-right ideologue, former Donald Trump strategist and Cambridge Analytica founder Steve Bannon. 

“We know there are close links between these people and the Trump regime,” she told Byline Times. “It’s divide and conquer to get into power and you then keep that campaign going to retain power. 

“You demonise dissent, you crush it. You demonise insurgents from within or without. So whether it’s so-called migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from without – you demonise them because you’ve promised to ‘take back control’ of our borders. And you demonise dissenters from within.

“It’s the classic far-right playbook. And it is terrifying. And people want to be very polite about it but it is thoroughly chilling.”

‘Protest has to be Inconvenient’

The Government’s Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill represents “the biggest step-change in many years in criminalising peaceful protest”, according to the barrister who served as the director of the civil liberties and human rights advocacy group Liberty for 13 years.

As well as allowing for increased police powers around protest and criminal consequences for those taking part in peaceful demonstrations, it will make “residing or intending to reside on land without the permission of the owner or occupier” a new criminal offence – “a piece of racist legislation” explicitly targeting the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities, Chakrabarti said.

“The anti-protest provisions will affect everyone, because everyone benefits from protest and free expression in a supposedly free country and that’s the people who go out and do it and also the people who don’t but who benefit over the centuries from the fruits of their labour,” she told Byline Times. “Whether it’s all of us women who now get to vote because of brave Suffragettes or people no longer living under Apartheid. Where would the world be in the 21st Century if people hadn’t sometimes taken to the streets in previous centuries?”

The provisions in the bill extend existing police powers to place restrictions on protests if they are likely to cause serious disruption to the life of a community, such as damaging property. Under the new plans, nuisance, noise and impact in general could suffice. 

“Whether it’s those who enrich themselves from fossil fuels or developments, we know we’re all supposed to put up with the emissions, we’re supposed to put up with the noise, with the impact and disruption to our lives,” the peer said. “And yet that is subject to a nicely regulated and actually quite deregulated planning process. Whereas, if you cause disruption, noise or impact as a peaceful demonstrator, you’re going to be subject to draconian police powers and criminality, in some cases up to a year’s imprisonment.”

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Chakrabarti said there are also concerns around a new measure in the bill which would allow the Home Secretary to “amend the definition of ‘disruption’ in the legislation by Henry VIII powers” – circumventing parliamentary scrutiny. In what circumstances could such a measure be used? “If in the future, the Home Secretary of the day thinks that the police have been too conciliatory with protestors and not suitably political and repressive”, according to Chakrabarti.

She believes that a September 2020 demonstration by Extinction Rebellion activists at a Newsprinters site – which stopped three-and-a-half million copies of national papers from being distributed – has been “part of the trigger” for the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Under the new legislation, an “organisation” can now be unlawfully disrupted by protestors, as well as a community. 

Six people were found guilty of wilfully blocking the highway during the protest. A court heard in June that the Home Secretary, Priti Patel, had been in contact with the police in charge at the time of the demonstration, with calls and messages asking why it had taken so long to resolve. The court also heard how the “two phones of two very senior officers have had their messages deleted”.

For Chakrabarti, the main aim of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill is to feed the Government’s ‘culture war’.

“We know that Boris Johnson and Priti Patel blew very loud dog whistles – and sometimes they weren’t even dog whistles, they were foghorns – in particular after the Extinction Rebellion and the Black Lives Matter protests of the last couple of years,” she said. “And these protests, yes, at times are inconvenient. Protest has to be inconvenient because, by definition, people are taking to the streets because they don’t have massive media empires or despatch boxes at their disposal. But they also caught the imagination of so many people worldwide. 

“So this is partly about a dog whistle and it is partly about being prepared to crush non-violent protest and discourage people from employing peaceful demonstration tools in the months and years ahead. Unfortunately, because the Government has taken quite a turn to the populist right, we are going to see more conflict.”

‘What they Really Mean is Executive Domination’

The last-minute amendments made by the Government to the bill – which will now enter its report stage in the House of Lords – include the new criminal offence of ‘locking on’ to land, property or another person; banning orders that can be issued against individuals with criminal consequences; and new stop and search powers targeted at protestors – including allowing the police to conduct suspicion-less stop and search.

“If you look at these new suite of measures, you’ve got something that looks like an anti-terror bill – except it’s an anti-protest bill,” Chakrabarti told Byline Times. “It’s demonising protestors because now they’re effectively being treated like terrorists.

“That from a Government that a few years ago was encouraging anti-Brexit demonstrators, from a Prime Minister who a few years ago said he would eat a compulsory ID card, who said he would lie down in front of bulldozers in relation to developments he didn’t approve of. And a Government that is banging on about free speech and ‘cancel culture’. 

“I too believe in free speech, but it’s a two-way street – it can’t just be free speech for people who have media empires or with millions of followers on Twitter because of their controversies, views or celebrity. Free speech has to be for ordinary people who care about the climate or race equality and have nowhere to put it except to go out and demonstrate.”

The Labour peer said that when the bill is taken with the Government’s wider authoritarian agenda – including plans to rescind citizenship, curbing judicial review, voter suppression legislation, and threats to the BBC – it is clear that “no dissenting power or coalition in society is to be tolerated” and that the approach of the Government is “you’re with us or against us”. 

“In the meantime, we’ve got catastrophic pandemic management with a state that’s perfectly prepared to waste taxes and spend money as long as their mates benefit from the contracts,” she added. “It’s very reminiscent of previous periods in history with this populist, far-right politics.

“We’ve got every potential sphere of civil society and democratic life under challenge from this Government, which uses phrases such as ‘parliamentary sovereignty’ but what they really mean is executive domination. Because, as we learnt from their behaviour in 2019 when they shut down Parliament illegally, parliamentary sovereignty is not really on their mind. This is the rise of the super-executive.”

The human rights activist believes that the actions of Boris Johnson’s Government should be viewed as part of a longer trajectory which has been travelling in a concerning direction for decades – including the response to 9/11 and the rise of the ‘War on Terror’ overseen by Tony Blair’s Labour administration.

‘History Will Judge this Shabby Government’and its Weaponisation of Refugee LivesSays Lord Alf Dubs
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“We’ve been in a very uncertain world since 9/11 and I’ve been all over on-the-record with mistakes that I think were made by governments on both sides of the Atlantic after 9/11 in their response,” Chakrabarti told Byline Times. “What we’ve seen subsequent to that is exacerbated war and tension and division. Within 10 years of that was the financial crash and greater and greater inequality and a sense that the people who were responsible for that crash didn’t pay for it but a lot of poorer and ordinary people did. Now we’ve seen the culture wars in both America and in the UK. 

“Rather than actually tackling inequality and climate catastrophe, the easier fix for a government just hell-bent on staying in power is even more accelerated division and inequality. As opposed to trying to deal with the fundamental problems that lead to unrest in society. It’s on a trajectory but it’s certainly an acceleration. 

“All governments of the last 20 years need to reflect on how they’ve contributed. When we look at these new provisions [in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill], they are more chilling than what came before, but they’ve been modelled on what came before. They were first used for ABSOs, then for terror suspects and now they’re being used for peaceful dissenters for being a bit of a nuisance essentially.”

The Labour peer also believes that it is a mistake to focus too much on Boris Johnson, as the changes being introduced on his watch are part of a deeper, more fundamental and longer-lasting shift.

“It’s an absolute mistake either to think that Boris Johnson is some sort of clown who is not serious and is just incompetent, or this is just about one person or a few people,” she said. “This is serious, long-lasting institutional domination that is happening. This is something much more fundamental. 

“There is a danger that a lot of political commentators, in particular, are behaving more like drama critics or sports pundits – ‘who landed a punch at PMQs?’ – as opposed to analysing these deeper trends and fundamental shifts.”

On the way forward, Shami Chakrabarti believes that a “broad coalition” is required and differences must be put aside – “whether they are between particular strands in parties or across parties”.

“We’ve got some tough fights ahead,” she told Byline Times. “That’s a reason for pulling together, putting other differences aside to work across all parties. If we don’t defend our rights and freedoms, we will have nothing left with which to fight.”




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New Clauses in the Policing Bill Expose Johnson’s Faux Libertarianism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 01/12/2021 - 9:06pm in

New Clauses in the Policing Bill Expose Johnson’s Faux Libertarianism

Johnson is sold to voters as a libertarian full of bonhomie – but his Government is suppressing freedom of speech and movement


Peppa Pig World, we learned from Prime Minister Boris Johnson in his speech to the CBI, is a place with disciplined schools, “safe streets, virtually no crime”. Everything and everyone conforms to the rules. “I loved it,” Johnson told his audience. “It is very much my kind of place.”

Johnson has a reputation for being a great libertarian leader. The Coronavirus lockdowns, we were told, were an affront to his liberal tendencies. He’s the enemy of red tape, the ruiner of regulations. And yet, his fantasy of Peppa Pig World tells a different story. Despite the narrative we are fed, Johnson falls far short of his libertarian self-image.

Lockdowns aside, which were necessitated for public health more than political expediency, one of Johnson’s first acts as Mayor of London was to ban alcohol on public transport. A policy welcomed by some, but not indicative of a free-wheeling approach to freedoms. As Prime Minister, he wasted no time in unlawfully shutting down Parliament

How can a libertarian proponent of freedom of speech close down the space dedicated to democratic debate?

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No More Chains

Central to Johnson’s authoritarian tendency is his Government’s new Police, Crime, Courts and Sentencing Bill. Last week, the Home Secretary Priti Patel introduced new amendments to the Bill that strengthened police powers to shut down and even criminalise protests. 

The amendments include criminalising “locking on”, with specific emphasis on people locking themselves to transport infrastructure. The move appears to be a response to Insulate Britain protests, and protests against deportation flights, both of which involve people attaching themselves to transport, railways or roads. The police will enjoy new powers to stop anyone they reasonably believe may “lock on” to, or obstruct, major transport works. 

Locking on has been a vital part of peaceful and nonviolent protests for centuries, from suffragettes chaining themselves to Parliament’s gates to Greenham Common women attaching themselves to the famed military base’s fence. 

The vague wording of the proposed law means it could feasibly be applied to people linking arms and creating a human chain, even holding hands, as well as the more obvious acts of attaching oneself to a physical object. In doing so, it undermines a long history of nonviolent resistance where protesters put their own bodies on the frontline of the cause they believe in. 

Such vagaries are a problem throughout the Bill, which allows the police to stop a protest if it creates too much “noise” and “disruption”, or causes someone “serious annoyance” and “serious inconvenience”. The problem is, one person’s inconvenience is another person’s no-bother. The lack of specificity when giving the State wide-ranging powers to prevent people’s freedom of speech, assembly and movement is deeply troubling. 


The new clauses in the Bill don’t stop there. Police will be given new powers to stop and search people at protests to avoid “serious disruption”, or if they believe a protester is carrying a “prohibited object” such as those used to “lock on” to infrastructure. Refusing could lead to a 51-week jail term. 

Then there’s the use of the Serious Disruption Prevention Order or SDPO. This order can be imposed on anyone convicted of a “protest-related offence” which, as the above demonstrates, could now include linking arms while chanting and marching through the local city centre. 

According to the Bill, an SPDO can be applied to someone whose activities are “likely to result in serious disruption”. This means a person can be prevented from even getting to a protest, so long as there’s enough suspicion they may well be disruptive should they ever get there. 

The SPDO severely restricts people’s freedom of movement. Those who have an order imposed upon them can be forced to report to the authorities whenever the courts demand it, as often as they demand it. They can be prevented from going to certain places, socialising with certain people – even blocked from using the internet to “encourage” people to “carry out activities related to a protest”. Something as simple as tweeting about a protest could be treated as a violation of the order, which lasts for two years. 


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Freedoms for the Few, Not the Many

The assault on the right to non-violence and peaceful protest exposes a hypocrisy in the Conservative Party. 

Back in 2018, there was an attempt by Labour to introduce “buffer zones” around abortion clinics designed to protect women from harassment while accessing healthcare. Then Home Secretary Sajid Javid called the measure “disproportionate”. More recently, Sir Desmond Swayne said they would be a “curb on freedom of assembly” and Congleton MP Fiona Bruce accused the zones of threatening “hard won” freedoms of speech, assembly and democracy.  

All but one of the Conservative MPs who voted against a Ten-Minute Bill in 2020 to introduce buffer zones around abortion clinics voted in favour of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Bruce did, however, express concerns about the Government’s plans, not least because they would curtail the ability of people to protest outside abortion clinics.   

It’s not the only example where the Conservative Party’s commitment to freedom of speech seems to privilege anti-rights activism over other types of speech or protest. The Department of Education’s white paper on freedom of speech in universities quoted research by ADF International – an organisation that claims to fight for ‘freedoms’ while seeking to deny women freedom of choice when it comes to healthcare, and LGBTIQ people freedom to marry. 

Then there was the news this week that individuals who criticised the current Government are not welcome in Whitehall – a move in direct opposition to the white paper on freedom of speech in universities.

Ultimately, the current Conservative Government appears more interested in the freedoms of the few than the many. This is a Government in favour of the freedom to rip up red tape and wreak havoc on regulations, let alone the freedom to circumvent due process in order to deliver crony contracts. But when it comes to the freedom of the public to protest these same Government actions, it becomes clear how one-sided its commitment to liberty is. 

The Prime Minister Boris Johnson has built his reputation on a liberatarian pose – fuelling a culture war where his Government rails against “cancel culture” and accuses the left of being “snowflakes” who are intent on shutting down any speech or statue they don’t like. 

The truth is that Johnson is an authoritarian in libertarian clothing. He may claim his passion for freedom of speech when it allows him to attack “wokeness”. But as the head of a Government that wants to clampdown on hard-earned freedoms to protest, the narrative of Johnson as an “instinctive liberal” is as fictional as an episode of Peppa Pig. 




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