BREAKING: Removed speaker Angelos Sofocleous secretly rejoins free speech panel

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By Ed Southgate, co-Editor in Chief

A Durham student who was removed from a discussion of free speech on campus following security concerns by the SU rejoined its panel after audience demand, contravening the society's agreement with the union.

Angelos Sofocleous, a Philosophy student, was removed from the panel last week following security concerns raised by the SU.

He attended the event instead as an audience member, which is not believed to have been disallowed. After an audience member asked out loud 'why can't he just go up there?', the event's host said: 'If the audience want to hear from him then I don't have a problem'.

As neither audience members nor panellists opposed his participation, he joined the panel. During the discussion, he said it is 'ridiculous that anyone's right to not be offended is more important than their right to freedom of speech'.

He joined panellists Dr. Bryn Harris and Professor Christopher Bertram.

The organiser, Izzy Posen, was overheard asking Professor Bertram how he would feel if the Philosophy student joined the panel.

Bertram told Epigram that his response was that it was 'not up to' him, but was up to the the organisers as the 'representatives of the society'.

Izzy denied that Mr Sofocleous' rejoining the panel was pre-planned, however. He 'suspected it might happen' given Angelos had already booked his train ticket and claimed to Epigram that he told Chris about the 'suspected eventuality'.

Mr Posen also denies undermining the agreement his society had with the SU. 'I don't think we are undermining the SU because the audience requested it and it is not my place to stop the audience from listening to him if they want to', he said.

He added that he 'assessed that it wouldn't be a safety concern because it was not public'. The audience were not, however, instructed against leaking the information to friends or on social media before or during the event.

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The all-male panel discussed whether free speech is under attack on campus, and how we can define 'hate speech'. Mr Sofocleous said that 'people expressing hate speech do not understand that they are wrong', and argued that supressing their views may lead to their views strengthening.

Mr Posen said the result of the event is a 'positive message that we can have respectful debate'.

Last year, Mr Sofocleous caused controversy and was accused of transphobia when he retweeted an article by a Spectator columnist with the headline: 'Is it a crime to say women don't have penises?'.

The Philosophy student was sacked as assistant editor of his University journal as a result of the retweet, but Durham SU later apologised for his dismissal as being 'unfair and undemocratic'.

Having consulted with the police, the union deemed his presence would be 'highly likely' to cause 'public disorder' and requested the event be rescheduled to allow security measures to be put in place. This lead to his removal from the panel due to the difficulties in finding another date that everyone can join.

Bristol SU refused to release the assessment report explaining why this decision was made, but the organisers claim they were verbally told in a meeting that it is to do with the tweet.

In the discussion, Mr Sofocleous responded to a question about whether individuals should be fired from a job because of personal beliefs. "I do not see what their personal views have to do with their job", he asserted.

The society accused 'Student Union bureaucracy' of limiting freedom of speech, something the SU deny.

'Bristol SU has not refused Angelos Sofocleous as a speaker. Bristol SU is committed to freedom of speech and the rights of all our students to discuss difficult and sensitive topics', a union spokesperson said.

The event has now ended and everyone has left.

Featured Image: Epigram / Kate Hutchison

AUTHOR

Ed Southgate

Co-Editor in Chief 2018-2019 | Editor of Epigram Comment 2017-2018 | Third Year English student | Email: editor@epigram.org.uk | Twitter: @ed_southgate

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