University of Birmingham threatens students with legal action over pro-Palestine encampment

Occupiers arrived on the Green Heart on Thursday and are the first in the UK to have been threatened with police action


University of Birmingham students have been threatened with legal action after launching an encampment on the Green Heart last week.

Student demonstrators set up tents on Edgbaston Campus on Thursday 16th May, protesting against the university’s stance on the war in Gaza.

The first UK university to threaten students with legal action, a letter sent from the the University of Birmingham’s director of legal services on Friday outlined that students who failed to leave the premises would be reported to enforcement officers, Daily Mail reports.

Demands outlined by student protestors include a public apology for the university’s delay in condemning the actions of Israel, an update to the university’s code of practice on free speech on campus, an immediate review of the university’s research and divestment from arms manufacturers.

Students on the encampment also unfurled a banner which accused the institution of “investing millions into the occupation of Palestine”.

Titled “Notice to quit”, the letter was issued to students from the university’s director of legal services less than 24 hours after their encampment began. Ordering students to end their occupation on campus immediately, it read: “The University of Birmingham confirms that it does not give permission for you to protest at The Green Heart or any other part of Edgbaston Campus (the premises) which is private land.

“Your occupation at the Premises is a trespass. The university requires you to leave the premises immediately. Failure to do so will result in the university taking legal action and/or reporting your trespass to law enforcement officers without further notice.’

The letter comes after vice chancellor of the institution, Professor Adam Tickell, cancelled a meeting with with pro-Palestine protesters scheduled for today, Tuesday 14th May. He explained that he would be unwilling to talk with students until the camp had been dismantled.

In a separate email issued to staff members, Professor Tickell said: “You may be aware that a small group of tents has been set up on the Green Heart by individuals protesting in support for Palestine.

“I’ve written before about how we will support students and staff who wish to take part in protests about issues that they care deeply about. However this does not extend to setting up tents on university property where there is no authority or permission to do so.

“Unfortunately [I] have had to inform students [I] will not meet with them while the camp is in place.”

This comes after student activists set up pro-Palestine encampments at universities in Leeds, Manchester, London, Nottingham and Warwick.

Despite being accused trespass and following the university’s demands to leave “immediately”, student organisers have since created activities and workshops for occupiers to engage in, including speeches and banner making sessions.

In a statement, the University of Birmingham said: “A small group of tents has been set up on campus by individuals protesting in support of Palestine. The university is operating as normal with exams and other activity continuing as planned.

“The University of Birmingham recognises that students will wish to take part in protests about issues that they care deeply about. There are many ways in which this can be done lawfully, and the profile of a cause raised. Our freedom of speech code of practice sets out how we support this, including through authorised demonstrations. However, this does not include setting up tents on University property where there is no permission or authority to do so.

“We are monitoring the situation to ensure safety and minimise disruption, including to students who are currently studying for and taking exams, and other education and wider university activities. We ask that the protestors also respect this.

“Our university community includes staff, students and visitors from a wide range of backgrounds and beliefs. Everyone has the right to go about their business safely and free from intimidation or harassment and we will not tolerate any form of discrimination or racism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia. We maintain regular discussions with a range of student and staff representatives to listen to their views and ensure that they feel supported.”

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