Cambridge University accused of curbing free speech and protest

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Cambridge University has been accused of clamping down on protest and curbing free speech following the punishment of a student.

English literature student Owen Holland was originally suspended from the university for seven terms after protesting during a speech given by Higher Education Minister David Willets last year.

The Septemviri, an internal university court, has now cut the sentence to one term.

A spokesman for the university said the court had upheld Mr Holland’s conviction for “recklessly impeding freedom of speech”.

But the campaign group Reinstate Owen Holland described the process as a “sham”, and said the university had repressed freedom of expression.

Members called for reform of the university’s internal disciplinary process, describing it as “antiquated and Byzantine”.

Asa Odin Ekman, a graduate student, said: “The university is trying to appear magnanimous by giving a sentence which in any other circumstance would nonetheless appear absurdly Draconian.”

The punishment came after Mr Holland read out a poem that disrupted a speech by the Minister, which was later abandoned.

Responding to the latest ruling, the university issued a statement saying: “The Septemviri, the independent appeal court for the University of Cambridge, has upheld the conviction of Owen Holland for intentionally or recklessly impeding freedom of speech.

“The court has reduced his sentence to one full term’s rustication, being the Michaelmas Term 2012 with suspension of his rights to use university premises and facilities during that period.”

The Reinstate Owen Holland group said it would continue to protest. Student Caitlin Doherty said: “The university has a commitment to protecting the right to protest that must not be infringed in defence of a bogus concept of a Government Minister’s freedom of speech.”