University of Birmingham Defend Education stand in solidarity with Tomas, the expelled UC Davis student protester, and all those who support him against the draconian measures imposed by UC Davis (University of California) in order to silence dissent.
The UC Davis and City of Davis Police arrested the undergraduate student in his dorm room in the early hours of 17th March for Felony Vandalism, relating to graffiti on campus. He was held incommunicado in jail during the final weeks of terms, unable to take his final exams and without the ability to contact legal representation. The university, which warranted his arrest, failed to notify any of his family, friends or department. He has now been expelled due to poor academic performance.
As a political activist, he had been involved with Occupy UC Davis and was arrested in the infamous incident of November 2011 where peaceful protesters were pepper-sprayed by police. The actions of UC Davis are clearly politically motivated and a means to suppress activism, intimidate those involved in it, and discourage the student body from standing up for Higher Education issues. This is part of a wider endemic panic surrounding student activism where peaceful protesters are treated as criminals, face inflated charges and are assumed guilty before ever reaching trial.
The situation of Tomas mirrors the circumstances faced by our own Vice-President Education earlier this academic year, when after being arrested and held in prison for 10 days following a peaceful protest, he returned to find that he had been suspended on grounds were inextricable from his arrest. He served a three month suspension despite being found not guilty a few months after his reinstatement. The University of Birmingham has also taken out an injunction criminalising occupation-style protests on campus which has been condemned by organisations such as Amnesty International and the Index on Censorship, and is pursuing disciplinary action against a student who was involved in a peaceful occupation of a unused university building.
It is sickening to see universities on both sides of the Atlantic behaving in such a draconian, unilateral and repressive manner. Universities are renowned for being places of learning, discussion and debate, where students are encouraged to develop as individuals and engaged members of society. The increasing use of underhand tactics to quash political dissent represent a firm departure from this proud tradition and a worrying trend in which freedom of political expression and the fundamentals of democracy are severely encroached upon.
The actions of Occupy UC Davis, and of students and activists in California in general have been a great inspiration to students in the U.K. The similarities of the protests against fee hikes and deep funding cuts are manyfold. It is inspiring to see that despite the intense persecution the movement faces it manages to achieve such meaningful successes as the recent forced closure of a bank on campus, the news of which made it all the way to England. The history of protest in the UC system is long and deeply entrenched in the core values of public education, the foundations of which will not be shaken through police or university repression.
We join the call for the UC Davis administration to readmit Tomas immediately to complete his studies free from harassment and we encourage other students from around the world to do the same.