Union speech protestors ousted by ‘burly’ officials

first_imgThe President of Botswana’s visitto the Oxford Union on Friday 14 October was interrupted by 25 protesters fromSurvival International, some of whom were Oxford Union members.As President Mogae, an Oxford graduate inEconomics, arrived at the Union buildings, he was greeted by protesters asking”Why are you persecuting the Bushmen?” The question referred topeople of a tribe, commonly known by westerners as Bushmen, that have beenasked to leave their land by the government of Botswana.Aliya Nanji, an undergraduate atSt Anne’s College who attended the event said, “Halfway through [thequestion and answer session], one girl asked about a shooting of Bushmen, thentook off her jumper, along with another girl, and they were wearing t-shirtssaying ’Botswanapolice shoot Bushmen’. Then they were asked to leave.” She added that”six or seven people were wearing [the t-shirts] later”.Nanji felt that “thePresident sounded a little upset towards the end” and accused theprotesters of giving completely one-sided arguments.The organization the protesterswere representing, Survival International, has accused Botswana ofethnic cleansing and continues to accuse the government of forcing the Bushmento leave their lands. Dr Jeff Ramsay, Press Secretary to President Mogae,stated, “We are used to this, we are always asked about the Barsawa (the nativeterm for Bushmen). At LSE in 2003 we had a similar incident, and the last time[the President] came to Oxford.”Dr Ramsay went on to add thatSurvival International “is accusing us of forcing [the Barsawa] out”, but heinformed Cherwell that all but 17 of the Bushmen “agreed to compensationpackages and moved out”. Dr Ramsay explained that the shooting the t-shirtsreferred to was a “sad incident where rubber bulletswere fired at people trying toenter Kalahari [a closed off region in Botswana]. One bullet hit a personin the jaw, but he survived andis fine.”Survival International issued apress release taking responsibility for the protests and saying the protesterswere “bundled out of the Oxford Union by burly security guards”. Chris Farmer, President of theOxford Union, defended the removal of protesters that asked controversialquestions, saying, “In a highprofile event, the Union hands over security matters to Special Branch and thepolice…unfortunately we did not have any control over it.” Witnesses of the event sayeverything took place in an orderly fashion, and that after the talk was overthe protesters were handing out CDs and leaflets.One Union member said, “The Unionis supposed to be a bastion of free speech; if people aren’t allowed to expresstheir opinions in a peaceful manner, then what is the point of holding adebate?”Farmer said the event “wasall very peaceful and calm, and was a real success.” He reasserted the Union’s stance on freedom of speech and freedom ofbelief, saying, “Everybody’s allowed to think what they want tothink.” He added that the President “specifically picked people thathad come from the group [to ask questions]”, showing his own support forfreedom of speech.In an article in The Independent,the director of Survival International said of the event, “I’ve been acampaigner since 1972 across the world, including in places like Colombia, notknown for their human rights, and never been manhandled like that before.”Farmer asserted that securityfootage would be examined before taking the matter further. President Mogae was the first oftwo heads of state addressing Oxford studentsthis week, the President of the CzechRepublic, Vaclav Klausvisited the European Affairs Society on Tuesday.ARCHIVE: 2nd week MT 2005last_img