Queen Mary guards ‘break into’ UCU offices and tear down pro-Palestine posters

The union branch described the move as illegal and a threat to free speech

The local UCU branch at Queen Mary University of London claims that security officers entered their office on Tuesday and removed materials donning pro-Palestine slogans.

University management reportedly ordered the removal of the posters, which had been in place for two weeks, over concerns for their effects on free speech.

The UCU reports that access was being arranged for security guards, but instead of entering with permission, they allegedly broke in and tore down the materials, reportedly causing damage to the office.

The posters in question advocated for a ceasefire in Gaza and expressed solidarity with those in Palestine. One of the posters in question featured the slogan “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free”, popular since the 1960s as a call for a democratic secular state, but criticised by Jewish groups such as the ADL for what they see as implying the destruction of the state of Israel.

The QM-UCU quotes university management as criticising these materials for having a “chilling effect on freedom of speech on campus.”

The posters were visible from outside the office

A spokesperson for QM-UCU criticised the break-in and seizure of the posters, arguing it is a symptom of a broader policy that suppresses free speech.

They told The London Tab: “The university has adopted a topsy-turvy understanding of free speech according to which no one is allowed to display posters prominently on campus which express solidarity with Palestinians because this could apparently be construed as an institutional point of view.”

The spokesperson also argued that ongoing protests against QMUL’s stance on Palestine led them to remove the materials.

They said: “The posters are also an uncomfortable sight for the university because they remind everyone that the university is still refusing to call for a ceasefire, divest from companies complicit in genocide, and end partnerships with Israeli institutions. This is contrary to the expressed wishes of many students and staff, and the local community.”

QM-UCU are still unsure as to the precise reasons for the break-in, but said: “We can only assume senior management saw the posters, decided it was urgent to take them down, and didn’t want to have to discuss the matter with the union.”

The union also claims that the action violates the law as “Universities have a duty to uphold freedom of speech and freedom of association under the European Convention on Human Rights, the Education Act No. 2 (1998), and Office for Students regulations. The only reason to remove these posters would be if they made unlawful statements, but they do not and the university has not tried to claim this.”

The local UCU branch has also escalated the matter to the national level.

It said: “UCU national have now intervened and are requesting assurances from the university regarding freedom of speech and union facilities. If the university does not allow us to put up posters, we will have to consider what other steps we will take.”

Describing the atmosphere among the QM-UCU branch, a spokesperson reported a mixture of animosity and encouragement.

They said: “There is a feeling of real anger and shock, but also determination. In the last few days, lots of colleagues and students have asked for copies of the posters to put up around campus. We don’t believe management can take them all down.”

This latest action follows weeks of student action in solidarity with the Palestinian cause, with students across London condemning their universities for failing to take a firm stance in favour of Palestine, and many levelling accusations of complicity in the situation in Gaza.

A Queen Mary University of London spokesperson said:

“We strongly support freedom of speech within the law. We also have a responsibility to ensure that all our staff, students and visitors feel safe on our campuses. We do not support permanent displays on university premises that include slogans such as ‘from the river to the sea,’ which we know some members of our community consider anti-Semitic and threatening. Such permanent displays on university premises could be seen as a University position, can stifle freedom of speech and make members of our community feel unsafe.”

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