Dozens of students at School of Oriental and African Studies (Soas) gathered together in a vigil in the memory of Giulio Regeni, on Wednesday evening.
Giulio Regeni was a Phd student at the University of Cambridge’s Department of Politics and International Studies. He was found dead in Egypt in unclear circumstances, but with evidence of torture and violence on his body.
The several mysteries surrounding his death and the vague answers by the Egyptian police led to several critics in Italy. This is the reason that pushed students at Soas to express their solidarity and ask for the truth.
At 5pm, the students put a banner on the ground at the university’s entrance saying: “We all are Giulio. We pretend truth. Freedom of speech in Egypt.”
They then sat down in silence handing several candles. Many students were Italians as Regeni, and they shared with him the same passion for research on developing and problematic countries.
Miriam Morhart, a student of Development and planner said: “Giulio’s death affected us. It could have happened to every of us.”
She went on: “We are also here to ask the Italian and British governments to do more to find the truth. There is an entire generation in Egypt who can be killed and arrested just for expressing what they think.”
It has been launched a petition to ask the British government to ensure a full investigation over the Regeni’s death. The petition gathered about 2500 signatures so far, and it will be considered for a Parliamentary debate reaching 100,000.
On Thursday, Regeni’s funeral will take place, but no steps up have been done in the investigations, which is still unclear and mysterious.
Students promised to go ahead with new meetings and vigils in order to push toward the truth.
The People’s Assembly rallied to express their aversion to the new British military engagement in the Middle East, after the Wednesday positive vote in the Parliament. Hundreds of people gathered at Friends House, in Euston Road, earlier on Saturday.
The aim of the meeting was to offer a political solution to the urgent issue in the Middle East, as ISIS’s threat in Europe is soaring. Many speakers took the floor to argue that bombing Syria is a wrong policy that will just worsen the upheavals in the region.
John Mcdonnell, the Labour Shadow Chancellor and one of the most awaited speakers, pointed out: “Our party offers three solutions now: minimization of the civilians’ casualties, a real diplomatic and political way out and the support for the refugees. Then, we should work on preventing conflicts.”
On the same opinion the leader of the Green Party, Natalie Bennett, who added: “We have to continue to rally against the war. Cameron has no mandate for it. We are the many and we have to overthrow this government, before the 2020.”
Lindsey German, National Convenor of the Stop the War Coalition, and John Hilary, Executive Director of War on Want, particularly attacked Labour MP Hillary Benn. Benn led the 66 party’s MPs who backed Cameron to bomb Syria. He was accused for his speech in favour of the military engagement at the Parliament last Wednesday. “If Benn wants to fight fascism, come and join us in the streets,” says Mrs German. “Benn called for internationalism against the terror. But internationalism is not to bomb people: it is standing up to imperialism,” went on Mr Hilary.
Concluding the meeting, former MP George Galloway remembered: “They talked about our grandparents fighting against the fascism in the Second World War. If we allow ourselves to be intimidated, we will be betraying all those who died in that period for our freedom. We have to go on and we will go on.”
Next Saturday, 12 December, Stop the War Coalition, one of the organizations involved in the Friends House manifestation, will rally in a public meeting (probably Trafalgar Square, but it is not confirmed). There will be not only the war at stake: it will urge the government upon refugees crisis, austerity and climate change.
Thousands of people protested against an eventual British engagement into Syria’s bombardment in front of Downing Street on Saturday.
5000 protesters, according to the Metropolitan Police, gathered together and rallied to ask Prime Minister Cameron not to support the coalition, including allies France and the USA, that is carrying on bombardments in Syria for a year.
They asked Cameron to rethink a new policy other than military for a long-lasting settlement in the Middle East. They argue that the Islamic State arose in the wake of the military interventions in the last 15 years.
Next Wednesday, the UK Parliament will vote over a military intervention in Syria. Prime Minister Cameron will ask the Parliament’s authorisation to start air raids in the territories controlled by ISIS.
The protest, carried out in the main British cities, was led by the “Stop the War Coalition.” It is an organization founded in 2003 against the US and UK military escalation in the Middle East after 9/11 attacks. Many other groups rallied for a peaceful settlement in Syria with the organization, such as the Socialist Workers, the International Communist Union, the Green Party and the Respect Party led by London’s mayoral candidate George Galloway.
Daniel, a 39 years old volunteer for the Stop the War Coalition, said: “We have to ask: does a yet another military intervention help? Bombing will just worsen an already dramatic situation. That is our answer since the 9/11 attacks and it does not seem to me anything changed for the better.”
On the stage, many speakers took the floor, among whom the musician and producer Brian Eno and The Guardian’s columnist Owen Jones.
They both suggested that the UK should firstly stop being allied with the ISIS’ supporters.
“We think that the army is the solution. Though, it is not,” said Brian Eno. “It is all that ISIS wants: they want to be the heroes and ask us to be the Crusaders and as bad as we possibly can. And we will do.”
He went on: “We must do a simple thing: following the money. Stop supporting who support them. Why do not we do that? Because Islamic State’s sponsors are Saudi Arabi and Turkey, our closest allies in the region.”
On the same opinion was Owen Jones, renowned for his peaceful approach when it comes to the Middle East. “It is the time,” he said, “we stand up against the Saudi dictatorship which is the epicenter of extremism and export it in the world. And it is the same with Turkey, a Nato ally which allows ISIS extremists to cross the border. This is the reality we have to face.”
For this reason, Jones concluded: “Every time we tell we have to intervene because if we do not, it will be worse. But look at every single intervention. We cannot do the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Bombing has always worsened the situation in Iraq, Syria and Libya.”
The organisation will intensify the campaign against the war in Syria. As a matter of that they have planned a new public meeting in London, at the Red Lion Square, on 1 December entitled “After the Paris Attack: The Case against War.”
“Don’t bomb Syria protest – 10 Downing Street” video package by Aylin Kaya
A students’ protest at School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) for the suspension of a staff member has led to the closure of the entire facility on Friday, in central London.
The suspension of Sandy Nicoll, which may end up with his layoff, triggered the students to try, firstly, an occupation and then to bar the doors with pickets to express all their aversion to this decision. For this reason, the university has decided to postpone all the classes.
Mr Nicoll has been accused of helping students occupy part of the SOAS facility in Brunei building during the last days.
He rejected the accusation: “I did not help anyone. Yet, I stand with the students. It is not about me, it is about SOAS because the new cutting policy risks weakening the right of studying and this is not fair. Cutting is not a solution.”
Luca, 19, studying International Relation and Development, described what happened: “At about 10:30 the fire alarm broke out and all the students went out. At the entrance, we saw students with loudspeakers inviting to join the protest. As guards closed the doors, a sort of human chain formed and did not allow anyone to go in. A student who wanted to get in was even beaten.”
In light of this all, the new director of SOAS, former UN official Valerie Amos, emailed all the students to say classes were postponed because she was not able to guarantee safety.
The protest embraced more: Friday has been the heyday of a three weeks occupation against the management’s cutting policy that is affecting SOAS.
Students and some staff members were concerned over the cut of 184 courses and £6,5m that the management, led by Amos, is foreseen to apply.
She recently asked the Heads of Departments to fill a list where savings can be obtained. Though the director has let know that it does not mean there will be cuts.
“Dear Interim Director” cited one of the many banners clearly hung at SOAS entrance “Why do you cost us £100,000 more than Weblo’s £200,000 + salary? Is this what savings look like?! Yours honestly, Concerned Students XOXO”
A Professor, who has not wanted to reveal his name, said: “The management will water down 184 courses next year. Most of them regard language courses whose professors’ salary has just been cut because, as management affirms, they don’t contribute to the research.”
Agostino, an Italian student, argued: “It is a pity that some courses will be closed. SOAS is a worthy and renowned university but this decision will affect negatively the quality and the right of studying.”
In the afternoon, the management decided to keep the university closed in order to prevent an occupation.
They locked the occupied room in Brunei building putting three guards for surveillance, shutting down Wi-Fi and electricity and turning on the air conditioner to freeze the students out.
The only way to go in was through a window. Inside, students sat in a circle discussing the cut policy and the plan of a rally where they hope hundreds of students will participate. Moreover, many professors took lessons and showed their solidarity along with protesters.
Zie, a student in the occupied room, affirmed: “Mrs Amos sent documents to the Heads of Departments asking for savings, but, even if they say there will be no cuts, we are worried and our occupation will last. Besides, we want the management to reinstate Sandy Nicoll who always worked hard for SOAS.”
SOAS is not new to protests. Hub of cultures and languages, it is renowned for its radical and leftist approach and it has been the scenario of occupations and manifestations for several times.
On Saturday, the facility may reopen and classes start again, the management referred, but the occupation will go ahead.
The students said they will join massively the March for National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts on Wednesday. They are preparing this demonstration in the occupied room in Brunei building where debates, special classes, events and discussions try to involve a higher number of sympathizers.