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Freedom of speech on campus under threat (again)

An Edinburgh University law student who posted a comment poking fun at ISIS, the terrorist group that wants to destroy the western world, is under investigation for an alleged 'hate crime' at Edinburgh University. 

No, this is not satire. It does though mark a new low in the ongoing battle for free speech at universities in the UK, writes Rory Broomfield. 

The student in question, Robert Travers, posted on Facebook after a US attack on an ISIS stronghold in Afghanistan that 'I'm glad we could bring these barbarians a step closer to collecting their 72 virgins'. According to the Mail Online, this has sparked a complaint from fellow student Esme Allman, who accused him of 'blatant Islamaphobia'.

A university spokesperson is also quoted by the newspaper as saying: 'We are committed to providing an environment in which all members of the University community treat each other with dignity and respect and our Code of Student Conduct sets out clear expectations of behaviour.

'We can confirm that complaints alleging misconduct have been received against Mr Travers and these are being investigated. It is, however, untrue to suggest that Mr Travers is 'under investigation' for 'mocking ISIS'.'

But whether the university calls it one thing or another, the main question is what authority do they to police people's social media accounts?

A university is a place of learning and academic rigor - it is not a place where ideas from George Orwell's 1984 are put into place by the institution. 

If Mr Travers is believed to have done something illegal then the complaint should be referred to the police. If, however, he is just expressing a legitimate point of view, then it should be open to the usual channels of student debate that have been present at universities across the UK for many years.

By investigating - and possibly punishing - Mr Travers for activity done possibly off campus and on a platform that has nothing to do with the university, the university seems to be overreaching its authority.

The relevant body at Edinburgh University, when looking at this complaint, should be minded that they can say to the complainant that if they believe Mr Travers has broken the law then the incident should be referred to the police. I hope they make the right decision - for the sake of free speech on campuses across the UK.

(Photo credit: Twitter) 



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