Julian Assange’s invitation to the Cambridge Union Society is already arousing controversy as a leaked email reveals plans by Cambridge University Students’ Union (CUSU) Women’s Campaign to stop him from speaking.
The question and answer session, due to take place on 27th November via video-link, would be the Wikileaks founder’s first public appearance since seeking political asylum in the Ecuadorian embassy last August. Assange’s protection against extradition, despite charges against him in Sweden of rape and sexual assault, has been subject to extensive criticism. Assange has appeared at the Union before, speaking in person in March 2011, but in light of the recent accusations, CUSU Women’s Campaign has already launched a petition to force the Union to revoke the invitation. The petition had already attracted more than 530 signatories at the time of publication.
Speaking to The Cambridge Student, CUSU Women’s Officer Susy Langsdale reiterated her dissatisfaction with the Union’s invitation. “We are deeply disappointed that the current committee of Cambridge Union Society have decided to re-invite Assange. Yet again, the Cambridge Union Society is enabling the rebuilding of the public personae of an alleged rapist. By inviting Assange, and Strauss-Kahn previously, the Cambridge Union Society are colluding in the horrific silence and shame around rape.”
Langsdale has also challenged the question and answer format of the Union talk.”Equally insulting to survivors of rape within the student body and nationally,” she notes that “it is clearly the case that Assange will not be able to talk about anything legally affecting his case and will, most probably, turn any reference into the case into an attempt to talk about his own defence.”
However, an email leaked to The Tab has revealed that the Cambridge group have plans for direct action. This would parallel the large-scale protests in retaliation against the Union’s invitation to Dominique Strauss-Kahn in March this year. In the message, which was addressed to the signatories of the petition put together against Strauss-Kahn’s visit, CUSU Women’s Officer, Susy Langsdale called for the email recipients to sign the petition. However, she went further to warn recipients to keep their plans for mobilising secret, asking to “please keep it quite quiet,” and adding “we don’t want a big ‘invite Assange’ campaign to be ready to go when the open meeting is organised”. The Tab suggests in its article that this silence could represent “an affront to the democratic process.”
Langsdale labelled The Tab’s accusations that Langsdale was deliberately trying to conceal her activities as “boringly sensationalist”. “The email we sent out was not ‘an affront to the democratic process'”, she insisted, “but an attempt to utilise those very democratic processes in place within the Union in order to get the invitation revoked by a members vote.”
Louise Ashwell – Deputy News Editor
Photo: Rob Palmer