APAN supports students’ right to peaceful protest, calls on universities to reverse punitive measures against student leaders, staff

Jul 11, 2024

The Australian Palestine Advocacy Network (APAN) is deeply concerned by the crackdown on student protestors who have taken part in anti-genocide encampments and protests on university campuses.

These infringements of their right to assemble and of free speech, and the extraordinary disciplinary actions issued by multiple universities in an attempt to intimidate and silence students and staff, are unacceptable.

Students engaging in peaceful protest on campus have faced continued and undue repression from their universities, including suspension and expulsion. 

Of particular concern are reports that the University of Melbourne is under investigation by a Victorian Government authority for potentially breaching privacy laws by using surveillance technology to identify students involved in a sit-in. We hold similar concerns for the staff at the University of Melbourne who have also faced penalties for partaking in student encampments.

The disciplinary measures imposed by university management against students and staff pose a legitimate threat to their rights, and to the universities’ obligations to their students.       

Threats of expulsion in response to student protests have been described by Greg Barns of the Australian Lawyers Alliance as “extraordinarily draconian.” 

University of Sydney Student Representative Council president Harrison Brennan has labelled the recent enforcement of new protest rules by his university a “repulsive, full-scale offensive” on student protest rights. 

As Israel continues to flagrantly violate international law, reject ceasefire deals and push ahead with its genocidal campaign in Gaza, it is critical that the rights of students and staff to protest their university’s potential complicity are not subject to undue restrictions.    

The protection of free speech on university campuses is vital to intellectual inquiry and development. It is extremely concerning that universities have resorted to such punitive intimidation against students. 

The students have, rightfully, demanded transparency and accountability from their universities with regards to ties with companies, such as weapons manufacturers, that could potentially be complicit in the unfolding genocide in Gaza.

APAN stands in solidarity with students, academics and university staff who have demonstrated on various campuses nationwide. We congratulate students at the University of Melbourne, University of Sydney and Curtin University for their success in having the first of their demands met. Full, formal disclosure by universities of their ties to weapons manufacturers is a key and crucial step towards divestment. 

We call on universities to immediately reverse the disciplinary actions enacted against students and staff and ensure that their democratic rights to protest and organise on campus are protected and upheld.