University and student in court fight over protest

A woman has told the High Court that students have taken protest action over a university's "complicity in what is a genocide" in Gaza, due to its links to arms firms.

The University of Birmingham is seeking to end a pro-Palestinian encampment on a campus green space.

Lawyers representing student Mariyah Ali, 20, argued the protest was peaceful and had legitimate aims.

At a hearing on Thursday, a judge heard the university secured a possession order last month over a campus area called Chancellor's Court with an encampment there since dismantled.

University bosses now want a similar order against Ms Ali and "persons unknown" over a camp on the Green Heart area of its Edgbaston campus.

The university claimed protesters were trespassing on private land and had created "a substantial risk of public disturbance and serious harm to persons and property", the court was told.

It complained that other students were being denied a "well liked and used outdoor space", claiming it had impacted open days and plans for 28 graduation celebrations and other events.

Ms Ali's lawyers argued that potential disruption was "modest" as tuition had ended for the summer.

It comes after The London School of Economics was granted a court order indefinitely barring encampments in one of its buildings after students slept in its atrium for more than a month in support of Palestine.

Pro-Palestine camp
Pro-Palestinian demonstrations like the one in Birmingham have been taking place at a number of university campuses across the country [BBC]

In her written witness statement Ms Ali, a Muslim undergraduate student from Walsall, claimed the university had "demonstrable links" to companies such as defence firm BAE Systems, who were allegedly "involved in the death and destruction in Gaza", with it being her "moral duty" to express her views.

Nicola Cardenas Blanco, the University of Birmingham's director of legal services, said it had "a long track record of authorising events on campus, in recognition of the importance of the rights of freedom of speech and assembly".

She said it sought to end the protests "in a diplomatic and peaceful way" and that the decision to take legal action was "not taken lightly".

Ms Blanco said the protesters at Chancellor's Court had relocated to the Green Heart encampment, with there being some 83 tents or gazebos on the green space on 20 June.

The camp cost the university just under £22,000, the court heard, with the relocation costs of affected graduation celebrations being £195,000.

Katharine Holland KC, for the university, wrote that the occupation aimed "to force the claimant to surrender to its demands", adding that freedom of expression "does not take priority" over its property rights.

The university's lawyers said in court documents it had previously been unable to identify other protesters.

Liz Davies KC, representing Ms Ali, said it was "proportionate" for the Green Heart protest to continue, adding that there had been no complaints of violence or threats and a lack of evidence of disruption to staff and students.

The hearing is due to conclude on Thursday, with a ruling expected at a later date.

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