LONDON, May 24: The palpable risks that Muslim students researching Al Qaeda literature for their PhD dissertations face here were thrown into bold relief when an academic and a student, presumably of Pakistan origin, were arrested for the possession of extremist material.
Student Rizwaan Sabir of Nottingham University was arrested on May 14 along with a 30-year-old member of staff under the Terrorism Act 2000. Both men were eventually released on May 20, although the staff member was re-arrested on unrelated immigration issues.
According to Elham Assad Buaras of The Muslim News, a London based periodical, the students and staff alike branded the arrest an exploitation of anti-terror laws and stifling of civil liberties.
Co-coordinator of Dissertation and Sabir’s personal tutor, Dr Bettina Renz, said that the material in question, an edited version of an Al Qaeda handbook, was ‘easily accessible’ and available on government websites. “The information he downloaded was 100 per cent related to his studies,” Dr Renz told The Muslim News.
“The information he obtained is available on websites that are widely used on reading lists in the School of Politics,” she said. It was in preparation for his PhD on radical Islamic groups.
His personal tutor was also annoyed about behaviour of the university authorities.
“Nobody tried to speak to him or to his tutors before police were sent in,” she said. Dr Renz also added that he “actually missed one of his exams because of his detention”. She was also convinced that Rizwan’s Muslim faith contributed to him getting arrested, saying “it undoubtedly played a part”.
Sabir’s other lecturer, Dr Rod Thornton, also confirm the PhD student was engaged in research into Al Qaeda. “So it would be no surprise if he accessed material related to Al Qaeda’s activities and the likes of Al Qaeda’s training manual is not hidden away,” Dr Thornton told The Muslim News. “It is freely available on US government websites.”
The University of Nottingham was unapologetic over its decision to call the police. “There is no reason why the material they had should have been part of their studies,” spokesperson for the university initially told The Muslim News. But faced with a barrage of staff testimony contradicting their claim that material downloaded was irrelevant, the spokesperson later insisted that the police were involved because Sabir had forwarded the information to “a 30-year-old member of clerical staff, who was not connected with the research”. The university seemingly failed to find out that it was emailed to the staff member to print because Sabir’s owns printer was not working.
A Nottinghamshire police confirmed to The Muslim News they had applied for a warrant to extend the detention before they were eventually released. “The judge was satisfied with the evidence presented and granted the extension,” a spokesman said. Both the Department of Innovation, Universities & Skills (DIUS) and Home Office refused to comment on Sabir’s case.
In response to the wrongful detentions, academics from the University of Nottingham will be doing a public reading of the research material that led to arrests under the Terrorism Act on campus, outside the Hallward library, University Park Campus, at 2pm, on May 28. The reading will be followed by a silent protest where students and academics will symbolically gag themselves to object to the attack on academic freedom.