Amnesty International Soc hold Vigil for Freedom of Speech

The vigil was to ‘highlight the unwarranted curtailment of freedom of expression which is occurring worldwide’

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Durham University Amnesty International society held a “Vigil for Freedom of Speech” last Tuesday evening outside the Bill Bryson library.

The Facebook page for the event had twenty seven attendees and this was, perhaps surprisingly, fairly accurate.

Matthew Gibson, a first year PPE student and the freshers’ rep for Amnesty at Durham, told us: “About twenty five people attended the vigil. Turn out was about the same as for our normal meeting.

“Given that we were asking people to stand outside in the cold, wind and rain with deadlines looming, this was a great turnout.

“The event went well, after some adaptations due to the weather we were able to get some photos which are currently being spread across social media to raise awareness of the campaign.”

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Matthew explained the motivation behind the photo vigil, which was “an action taken just here in Durham” as part of a wider campaign.

The aim of the action was to highlight the unwarranted curtailment of freedom of expression which is occurring worldwide and in particular to highlight the abhorrent case of Raif Badawi in Saudi Arabia, who received a disproportionate sentence (10 years imprisonment, 1000 lashes, fined the equivalent of over 1/4 million US dollars and is banned from using any media or travelling until 2034).

“He has already suffered his first set of 50 lashes and the second set are postponed after he has been found he has not sufficiently recovered from the first round of lashings, reflecting the degree of inhumane treatment he faces.”

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Matthew also drew attention to a crucial difference between the Amnesty action and the protest by Durham Students for University Reform earlier in the week. The protest on Monday regarding accommodation fee rises was characterised by slightly crude slogans, as well as mass action, whereas the Amnesty action was not focused on drawing a lot of attention on the night.

“A large part of Amnesty actions is not the immediate reaction. It is about creating images that will be spread across social media as this will reach a far larger audience than we could otherwise.”

The accommodation protest also had a much higher turn out than the Amnesty action, despite Amnesty’s focus on a barbaric sentencing rather than simply on saving students some money.

Matthew said: “It is displaying a very narrow perspective to view Durham students as self-interested based on one action. Over ten societies encouraged students to attend the accommodation fees protest. JCRs encouraged students to go. The protest was an action of a different scale and kind to our vigil, so it is very understandable that there are obvious differences in turn out.

“Of course Amnesty International would like more students to attend our actions but we realise that students have limited time to give to various causes.

“On a separate note many of the protesters on Monday were not third years and second years who are not living in next year meaning that they had no personal interest in the outcome of the protest.” 

Last week was characterised by student action. Monday saw the Durham Students for University Reform protest, which was attended by over two hundred people, and campaigning has begun for positions within the Durham Students’ Union.