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University of Sheffield management wanted all media coverage "agreed in advance", say authors of new report into apartheid complicity

The onerous restrictions, which included a blanket ban on members of the public attending the launch of the report, appear to contradict the University’s new freedom of speech policy.

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The launch of the new report took place at the Broomhall Centre on Tuesday night after it was pushed off campus.

Now Then.

The authors of a new report that examines the University of Sheffield’s (UoS) ties with weapons manufacturers say university management demanded the right to vet any journalists attending the report’s launch event – which would have included Now Then and other local reporters.

The launch of the new ‘Genocide and Apartheid Complicity Report’, which examines UoS’s links with companies that produce weapons used in the ongoing genocide in Gaza, was originally scheduled to take place on campus, hosted by the local branch of the UCU union.

But after university management imposed a list of what organisers have described as “invasive restrictions,” the report’s launch was moved to the nearby Broomhall Centre at the last minute.

These restrictions included organisers notifying UoS security staff of the names of all attendees, barring members of the public (non-university) from attending, checking attendees’ university identification against a list of names, and allowing security staff to use body-worn video recorders at the event.

University management also wanted all banners, flags, placards, and non-religious face coverings removed, and said that the event must be recorded and shared with the university on request. Alarmingly, they also said that all external press and media coverage of the event had to be agreed with the university in advance.

Now Then has seen evidence of these proposed restrictions from the Sheffield Campus Coalition for Palestine (SCCP), and a spokesperson for the University of Sheffield confirmed to us that these were accurate.

The draconian list of restrictions appears to directly contradict the university’s recently updated Code of Conduct for Freedom of Speech, which commits the institution to “fostering an environment that encourages the free exchange of ideas, including those with the capacity to cause discomfort.”

“Freedom of speech and academic freedom are fundamental to the University of Sheffield’s research, teaching and other academic activities,” reads the policy. “These enable our staff and students to test the truth of the ideas that shape society, to explain important social and natural phenomena [and] to challenge how the world around us is understood.”

But academics affiliated to the UCU, who were originally planning to host the event on campus as they usually would for their events, said the restrictions proposed by the university appear to undermine their own recently refreshed policy.

“The restrictions placed on the event appear to us to be motivated more by protecting the university's reputation and gathering intelligence on attendees than on any commitment to free speech,” said a spokesperson for the local UCU branch.

“We were astonished by the interference that the university deemed appropriate in this case, which goes far beyond anything we have seen in the past, and would have had a chilling effect on the freedom of speech of those interested in participating in the discussion.”

The 85-page report extensively details the university’s financial links with companies like Rolls-Royce, BAE Systems and Boeing, who all produce aerospace technology used by the Israeli military. UoS receives more investment from weapons manufacturers than any other university in the UK.

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Now Then.

The chief prosecutor of the International Court of Justice, whose jurisdiction includes acts of genocide, has recently announced his intention to apply for an arrest warrant for Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for possible war crimes and crimes against humanity based on Israel’s activities in Gaza.

In the coming days, Now Then will publish an in-depth look at the ‘Genocide and Apartheid Complicity Report’ and its findings.

Speaking to a packed Broomhall Centre on Tuesday evening, staff and student members of the SCCP decried attempts by the university to shut down debate over the new report.

“The university has only gotten away with the work it’s been doing because nobody’s been looking,” said Dr Sam Marsh, a teacher in the School of Mathematics and Statistics and the senior vice-president of the local UCU branch.

“The university is the business, and is the concern, of the people of this city,” said speaker Hilary Smith, chair of the city-wide Sheffield Palestine Solidarity Campaign.

We asked the University of Sheffield why they continue to receive investment from companies that manufacture weapons that are being used in an ongoing genocide – a question that they did not respond to when we first asked it two weeks ago. A spokesperson told Now Then:

The University of Sheffield has multiple strategic research and innovation partnerships with aerospace, engineering and energy companies. These are mainly focused on contributing to improved manufacturing processes and materials that boost productivity and sustainability and support our regional and national economy.

We recognise that some of our research and innovation projects have the potential for dual use and include some research related to defence and global security challenges, however these projects are subject to stringent due-diligence processes, scrutiny and oversight.

We know that some members of our University community have concerns about this area and we will continue to review our approach, to ensure we are upholding our values and supporting academic freedom. We are also committed to investing our funds on a socially responsible basis and have an ethical investment policy, with an annual compliance statement and impact report.

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