A bitter row has broken out at Nottingham University over a lecturer who claims he was suspended for criticising the institution’s handling of arrests by anti-terror police.
In May 2008 a student and member of staff at the University of Nottingham were arrested and questioned for a week by anti-terrorism police after their computer files were found to contain papers about radical Islam and al-Qaeda.
Student Rizwaan Sabir and Hitcham Yezza, who worked as the principal school administrator at the university’s School of Modern Languages, were later released without charge.
Mr Sabir had downloaded the manual as research for a dissertation and had sought Mr Yezza’s help for a PhD proposal.
The events led to a huge debate about freedom of speech and Islamaphobia. Now one of the University’s own lecturers has written a paper claiming that the University tried to discredit Mr Sabir.
Dr Rod Thornton, an expert in counter-insurgency, claims Nottingham University gave the police evidence in an attempt to “discredit their names” while refusing to apologise to the men.
In a paper prepared for the British International Studies Association – but since taken down from the Association’s website – Dr Thornton said: “Untruth piled on untruth until a point was reached where the Home Office itself farcically came to advertise the case a ‘major Islamist plot’.”
But now Dr Thornton himself has become the centre of controversy.
“Academic freedom…is not the freedom to defame your co-workers and attempt to destroy their reputations as honest, fair and reasonable individuals.” Nottingham University spokesman
The university refuses to confirm or deny that he has been suspended, but says that “internal processes are ongoing”.
A spokesman added: “The fact remains that the article produced by Dr Thornton is highly defamatory of a number of his colleagues. Academic freedom is a cornerstone of this University, but it is not the freedom to defame your co-workers and attempt to destroy their reputations as honest, fair and reasonable individuals. The University rejects utterly the baseless accusations Dr Thornton makes about members of staff.”
But leading academics have reacted with “concern” to the news of Dr Thornton’s suspension.
Almost 70 professors and doctors – including renowned US scholar Noam Chomsky – called for his reinstatement in a letter to the Guardian Newspaper.
The scholars wrote: “The claims he makes are very serious and should be subjected to a full and proper inquiry: they cannot be ignored.
“We call for the immediate reinstatement of Dr Rod Thornton and call on the University of Nottingham to openly and thoroughly examine the claims made in his research. We also request that an independent inquiry be conducted into the university’s actions on this matter.”
Around 100 students gathered at Nottingham campus on Thursday, and marched across campus. They shouted slogans calling for Dr Thornton to be reinstated and for an open inquiry into his claims.