Police take action against Oxford students occupation

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Students rally at the Oxford University encampment

SIXTEEN protesters were arrested when police intervened to take action against an occupation on Thursday in support of Palestine by ‘Oxford Action for Palestine (OA4P)’.

A spokesperson for OA4P said: ‘Today, Oxford students staged a peaceful sit-in to demand that the university meet with us after two weeks of non-response.

‘Instead of engaging in dialogue with her students, the vice chancellor chose to evacuate the building, place it on lockdown, and call the police to make arrests.

‘We demand the administration meet with us to negotiate immediately.’

The students stated: ‘The university said the temporary occupation of the building had caused “significant distress” to staff.’

In a statement the university said: ‘Contrary to claims by OA4P, this was not a ‘peaceful sit-in,’ but a violent action designed to escalate tensions.

‘It is clear that the actions of some of the protesters involved in the encampment have created a deeply intimidating environment for many members of our community, including our Jewish students and staff and members of the local Jewish community.’

It insisted the university’s senior leadership was ‘horrified by the suffering of people in Gaza, and the taking of hostages on 7th October’ and said there was ‘no place for intolerance at Oxford’.

It started with a sit-in at university offices on Wellington Square at 08:00 BST, with students demanding a meeting over its policies relating to the Israel-Gaza conflict.

The university accused the students of ‘threatening and violent actions’.

Police said 16 people had been detained on suspicion of aggravated trespass.

A Palestinian flag was hung from a first-floor window.

It added that one of the 16 had also been arrested on suspicion of common assault.

BBC Radio Oxford reporter Phil Mercer-Kelly, who was at the scene, said hundreds of people were outside the building, being prevented by police from entering.

He added there had been a ‘big movement’ as police forced a group of people back to Little Clarendon Street to allow police vans to leave.

Protesters had gained access to a private office inside the building, and hung a Palestinian flag out of a window alongside a list of their demands.

In a statement, Thames Valley Police said: ‘Elements of this protest sought to obstruct the removal of the persons arrested.’

The statement added that police were still managing an on-going peaceful protest in the city.

On 6 May, ‘liberated zones’ were set up at Oxford’s Museum of Natural History and King’s College, Cambridge.

The demonstrators called for the universities to cut financial ties with Israel following its offensive in Gaza.

More than 35,000 people have been killed in Israel’s offensive in Gaza, the Hamas-run health ministry there has said, the majority of them civilians.

Israel rejects accusations that it is engaging in genocidal acts in its campaign in Gaza, and has insisted it has the right to defend itself following the armed incursion by Hamas on 7 October.

‘We hoped that a peaceful sit-in would force Irene Tracey to acknowledge the urgency of our demands and agree to negotiate with our coalition.

‘Instead of engaging in productive dialogue with her students, Vice Chancellor Irene Tracey chose to immediately evacuate the building, place it on lockdown, and call the police who arrived in large numbers an hour later.

‘After a short briefing by the police, the students agreed to vacate the premises peacefully.

‘However, the police refused to allow the students to leave, confiscated their phones and placed then under arrest.

‘Over the next five hours the students were confined in the office, denied access to the bathroom, and then taken to police stations.

By 9.40am over a hundred students, faculty and staff rallied outside at Wellington Square, and were shocked by the disproportionate police response.

‘Police violently pushed protesters without warning, threw then to the ground, and inched their van through a crowd of students over the course of two hours.

‘Multiple students were punched in the face and left bleeding grabbed by the shirt and flung to the ground with abrasions, and students glasses were broken.

‘By choosing to escalate with police action, the university response enabled an unprecedented level of violence against students in the university.

‘By 2pm the mass student and faculty protest was violently broken up by police.

‘As of 7.30pm, the 16 individuals under arrest were still being held in detention.

‘The legal basis of the arrest was under the charge of aggravated trespassing.

‘The nature of the offence is such that it is entirely within the discretion of the university whether to pursue these charges. This incident became a police matter because the university decided to make it a police matter.

‘Irene Tracey’s violent response to peaceful student protesters today indicates she would rather criminalise, silence and endanger Oxford students, instead of confronting her enabling of Israel’s genocide in Gaza.’