The Protest the protest ban turned into an occupation this Wednesday as the original route designed for the march veered off route and ended in an occupation of Staff House.
The march around campus from Mermaid Square to the Clock tower was in protest against the University’s injunction banning occupation style protests which came in force for one year at the end of 2011. It turned into a demonstration in support of a second year student facing disciplinary action for his role in the student occupation that took place in November.
The ban on protesting has been condemned by various human rights and civil liberties groups such as Liberty and Amnesty International.
Greta Morris, second year International Relations student and President of the University of Birmingham Amnesty Group said: '[Amnesty] are here today to remind the university they can't just use injunctions to get rid of protesters when it suits them. We're defending the right to protest on campus and giving students their free speech. We think the university shouldn't use disproportionate force to stop any protest.'
The protest had been officially sanctioned by the Guild of Students with other members of the sabbatical team and Guild stewards present for health and safety reasons. However, a number of protesters began to break away from the group and hammer on the windows of several buildings including security services where chants of ‘you say cut back we say fight back’ could be heard.
They then moved to Staff House which was occupied by several protesters forcing the Guild to end its endorsement of the protest immediately and absolve responsibility for the people inside.
One of the Guild stewards, Tom DeFraine said that although he supported the protest itself he thought the occupation would simply make the University even more determined to keep the ban.
However Claire Lister, third year Chemistry student and one of the organisers of the rally said: 'It shows the anger of the people, we shouldn't be having to do this, students want to be able to spend their right to protest, they want to be able to do that and without any way to do that we are angry.'
Edd Bauer, Vice President of Education at the Guild of Students and another organiser said in a statement to Redbrick beforehand: ‘The point of the protest is threefold. One, to stand up for the restoration of free speech to our campus, two to offer solidarity to [the student] being disciplined today. Thirdly to show any other Vice Chancellor across the country who might be delusionally thinking that taking out injunctions like ours is a good idea of the ferocity with which the student body will respond. If they don’t rescind the ban the pressure will only grow and we are also following this up in the high court.’
The Guild of Students released a statement following the protest: 'Today, Wednesday 15th February, students took part in a protest on the University of Birmingham campus. The demonstration was organised by the Guild of Students following a mandate from the student body, Guild Council, to defend the right to protest.
As the protest left the Guild of Students, it immediately deviated from the planned route. Events which followed were therefore unplanned, and not organised by the Guild of Students.
In an effort to maintain the health and safety of those Birmingham students taking part, the Guild endeavoured to oversee the demonstration to ensure student safety.'