Union's invitation to Wikileaks founder prompts protests

Julian Assange

Simone Webb

First published in News The Oxford Times: Photograph of the Author by , Reporter. Please call me on (01865) 425411

A ROW has erupted over Oxford Union’s decision to host controversial Wikileaks founder Julian Assange as a guest speaker.

Protestors plan to picket the event on January 23 where Mr Assange will appear via videolink as part of an awards ceremony honouring whistleblowing.

Simone Webb, president of the Oxford University LGBTQ society (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer), said the Union was ignoring the fact he was a wanted fugitive.

The activist, holed up in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, was granted political asylum in June from an arrest warrant for extradition to Sweden over rape allegations.

Mr Assange, who maintains he is innocent, fears that if he was extradited to Sweden he could then be handed over to the United States and face the death penalty.

Protest organiser Ms Webb, 19, said: “I am holding the protest primarily to highlight the inappropriateness and irony of having someone speak at an awards ceremony supposed to celebrate integrity, justice, courage and truth-seeking who is himself evading the justice process by hiding in the Ecuadorian embassy.”

The 189-year-old debating society defended its decision and said it would press ahead.

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Spokesman Alex Reut-Hobbs said: “We feel that the Oxford Union, dedicated to upholding freedom of speech and providing a platform for all points of view, is a fitting venue.

“We would encourage those who disagree with him to participate in the question and answer session.”

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