Posted Thursday, May 10, 2001

Quick navigation

Alphabetical index (text)  

It is a shame that the president has been forced to cancel a debate which would have been of significant interest and importance to our members. -- The Oxford Union press officer

London, Thursday, May 10, 2001


Oxford Union bans Irving from debate on free speech

[see too Editorial Comment]

By Tim Miles and Indira Das-Gupta

THE Oxford Union has cancelled a debate tonight due to be addressed by historian David Irving -- defending his right to free speech.

The debating society bowed to protests from academics and students at the university.

Its decision was welcomed by the Association of University Teachers, which had called for an international academic boycott of the Union if the debate went ahead.

But anti-censorship campaigner Rohan Jayasekera, who was due to have joined Mr Irving opposing the motion "that this house would restrict the free speech of extremists", said the debate should have gone ahead -- although he condemned the Union for inviting Mr Irving to speak.

Mr Irving was branded a "Right-wing Nazi polemicist" by a High Court judge during a libel trial last year in which he unsuccessfully defended himself against American historian Deborah Lipstadt who accused him of falsifying history in denying the Holocaust. His invitation to speak at the Union was criticised by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

Oxford Union spokesman Daniel Johnson condemned what he described as a "politically driven campaign" against the debate by the Oxford University Students Union.

"This was an attempt to stifle the freedom of speech which the Oxford Union stands for," he said. "It is a shame that the president has been forced to cancel a debate which would have been of significant interest and importance to our members and which posed no danger, as had been suggested, to student safety."

Mr Jayasekera, from the free speech magazine Index On Censorship, said: "The right to freedom of expression is a universal one and it's not up to individuals to decide who should have that right and who shouldn't.

"But that does not mean that people are allowed to break the law in the name of free speech, so if for example somebody is guilty of inciting racial hatred through their words, they should be prosecuted.

"Inviting David Irving to the debate was an insult to ethnic minorities everywhere and I think it was wrong to ask him."

Lord Janner, chairman of the Holocaust Trust, said: "It was totally unacceptable to provide a platform for a man branded in the High Court as an active Holocaust denier who is anti-Semitic and racist."

David Triesman, general secretary of the AUT, said the cancellation "is a victory for common sense which proves overwhelming support amongst the academic and student community for an end to the kind of bigotry supported by David Irving."

Related items on this website:

  Error of judgment | Free speech under threat at Oxford Union | debate storm | boycott threat | threat to Oxford Union over Irving appearance
The above news item is reproduced without editing other than typographical
 Register your name and address to go on the Mailing List to receive

David Irving's ACTION REPORT

© Focal Point 2001 F Irving write to David Irving