University of London cancels Musharraf’s event over protest fears

SOAS came under intense pressure after the event with the former military dictator was announced

Murtaza Ali Shah

LONDON: The University of London has said it will not allow All Pakistan Muslim League (APML) President Pervez Musharraf to use its venue to take part in a question and answer recording session for a private Pakistani television.

A private television channel had announced that General (retd) Pervez Musharraf will “answer your questions on a range of world issues, from '99 takeover to the War on Terror and Nawaz Sharif’s disqualification” at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), Khalili Theatre on 24th of August.

The SOAS came under intense pressure after the event with the former military dictator was announced. The university was told by at least three groups that it will protest during the event and activists will disrupt the event. 

Pakistan Solidarity Campaign, a group of Pakistani activists from various progressive groups, wrote to the SOAS and launched a petition calling on the university to “immediately revoke permission” to host Musharraf. It said that allowing Musharraf will “send the wrong message that SOAS – and the British Government – support military coups, state-sponsored violence, and humanitarian crimes in Pakistan”.

Pakistan Solidarity Campaign said Musharraf was “not only a military ruler who has toppled a democratically-elected government” but he was also involved in abduction, torture and humiliation of human rights activists and political opponents including supporting political and religious groups with links to violence.

It told the SOAS that allowing Musharraf a platform will mean undermining the rule of law in Pakistan and will send a message that law absconders are rolled out the red carpet.

"SOAS academics and students have been at the forefront in the campaign for the restoration of democracy and for the rule of law in Pakistan. I condemn providing an academic platform to Gen Musharaf for his projection. He has violated the Constitution of Pakistan and is declared absconder by the court in Pakistan. SOAS was not involved with planning the event, it was being arranged by a private Pakistani TV as their private event,” Nadir Cheema, an academic at SOAS said.

On Monday, the main Student Union of SOAS joined Pakistan Solidarity Campaigning in announcing various layers of protest, forcing the university to revoke permission of the event.

SOAS issued a statement confirming that it had “not invited Pervez Musharraf to speak at the school and no such event is taking place here”.

It confirmed that a “room booking request” was made by a student and “that the student has now in fact withdrawn the request”.

“We have proper procedures in place for managing proposed events by student societies. At no point was an event confirmed or accepted by SOAS, nor was any event planned and organised in conjunction with SOAS or in discussion with the Students’ Union.”

The SOAS said that the student who had applied to book the event withdrew his request on Monday.

Pakistan Society President Khadeejah Shahid said that SOAS’s PakSoc had no relation with the event and “we don’t get involved in Pakistani politics”.

The University of London's cancellation comes a few days after Pervez Musharraf was forced to leave an event midway at Nobel Peace Centre after a protest by some participants.