Without a murmur of protest from the students union or university management, General Pervez “The Cowboy” Musharraf, a former Pakistani dictator living in exile in London while evading arrest for the alleged killing of political opponent Benazir Bhutto, was invited to talk on “good governance” in Leeds Met’s Gandhi Hall.
Musharraf is wanted by the Pakistani government for collusion in a number of murders of political opponents, as well as the abduction and detention of several lawyers and judges. He is also a war criminal – his regime oversaw the killing, displacement and disappearance of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in Balochistan. He also claimed, to worldwide outrage, that women who were victims of rape treated it as a “moneymaking concern”, used to gain Visas to travel abroad. So it’s clear this man doesn’t have a spotless track record!
Members of REVOLUTION and other students – who first heard of the event via Facebook – were astounded that such an event could even take place on the grounds of an educational institution and set out to counter this odious murderer and his supporters. After almost two hours of trying to find out from the event organisers – The Leeds Met Pakistan Society – the actual location of the event on the City campus, we were forced to make our way out of the city centre to Headingley campus, a ten minute bus ride away.
The location had been kept a closely-guarded secret intentionally by the organisers who did not wish for any “unsavoury” political currents to attend or any organised protest to go ahead. In fact, a REVOLUTION member was told she was not welcome at the meeting due to her “political affiliations” after the organisers did a background check on her! She was also banned from the Pakistan Society, in a completely undemocratic and unconstitutional move by a university society. Apparently universities are no longer a place for free thinking and political expression! Unless, that is, you’re a former tyrant.
After arriving on the Headingley campus, we were met by several cars and vans full of Musharraf’s private security force, funded to the tune of hundreds of thousands a year by the UK government (in addition to his “modest” £1million London flat). Inside the library building (the location of Gandhi Hall) we were then greeted by specially drafted-in police officers. Our intention was to disrupt the meeting by making a much noise as possible and to read out a list of Musharraf’s crimes before his audience and entourage, as well as distribute leaflets and wanted posters explaining our reasons for protesting.
We were immediately stopped outside the room itself where several tooled-up cops and security guards were holding vigil, alongside the President of the Pakistan Society! We immediately demanded, as Leeds Met students, that she explain her actions in welcoming a dictator to our campus – a man with the blood of thousands on his hands, the systematic repressor of human and women’s rights who was swept to power in a military coup. She was unable to answer for her disgusting actions, including the undemocratic barring of students from the meeting.
At this we were told we were making too much noise and told to leave. Two of our members were also taken aside for questioning by some overly-aggressive police officers for putting up posters on a toilet door! They proceeded to demand personal details, claiming this was required by law – but there were no legal grounds on which to do this. In contrast to the cops, the university security allowed us to put up posters around the building, with some saying they would see us on the picket lines in the morning!
But, with a university management and student society complicit in the invitation of a war criminal and murderer to our university, REVOLUTION demands the immediate recall of the Pakistan Society’s officers and for the students union to take action to prevent any future events that involve dictators – including amending the constitution. Keep our campuses dictator-free! Universities are intended to be open spaces for debate and political discussion, but we were intentionally banned from participating in any ‘Q&A’ with the West’s favourite war criminal. We also condemn the take-over of our library by hired goons and police, who have no place in our universities – we must take the example of our Greek comrades, who have a codified ban on cops entering their university grounds and buildings.
Such a disgustingly secretive event, with such on odious speaker, should never happen again on our campus. The actions of the Pakistan Society and university management in letting this even go ahead will not go unchallenged. KEEP OUR CAMPUS DICTATOR FREE!