ANGELOS Sofocleous, a Durham University student, has attended and spoken at a ‘free speech’ event at the University of Bristol from which he had been previously banned over alleged security concerns.
The event was held on Wednesday night. It concluded without incident.
Sofocleous, 24, had been told by the organisers at Bristol University that he would not be allowed to speak at the event over ‘concerns’ that trouble might break out due to a comment he had made on Twitter months ago.
The Cypriot student was branded ‘transphobic’ after retweeting an article by a Spectator columnist with the headline: “Is it a crime to say women don’t have penises?”
However on Wednesday, Sofocleous attended the event anyway as an audience member.
According to the Epigram, the University of Bristol’s student newspaper, when 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 panelists opposed his participation, he joined the panel. During the discussion, Sofocleous said it is “ridiculous that anyone’s right to not be offended is more important than their right to freedom of speech.”
Sofocleous later tweeted: “I attended the debate as an audience member and after the audience’s demand I joined the panel. Three people had a civilised debate, exchanged criticisms, added to each other’s points, and enjoyed a healthy and productive dialogue with the audience.”
He added: “Victimhood culture and fearmongering will not and cannot silence individuals. We had a great discussion last night and the audience’s stance contributed to that, showing that the assessment that the event required policing and security was misjudged. Thank you, Bristol.”
Bristol University’s Free Speech Society said the Student Union (SU) had sought to de-platform Sofocleous under the guise of security concerns.
The Epigram said Bristol’s 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 was to do with the tweet.
Speaking to the Cyprus Mail on Thursday night, Sofocleous said that following the brouhaha he personally called Bristol police to ask whether the university’s SU had got in touch with them to discuss the issue of security at the event.
The police denied being contacted by the SU.
What’s more, Bristol University’s Free Speech Society posed the same question to the university campus security. Again, campus security said the SU had not reached out to them about the event.
These facts would suggest there was no basis in reality for the student union’s contention that Sofocleous could pose a ‘security threat’.
Sofocleous also tells the Cyprus Mail that last October he was warned by a Durham University lecturer that he faced possible expulsion should he ‘misgender’ anyone on campus.
This is official policy at Durham University. Many other UK universities share the same policy.
About a month ago, Steve Bannon, one-time adviser to US President Donald Trump, was scheduled to give a talk at Oxford University. A group of students protesting Bannon’s presence tried to block entry to the venue. The event eventually took place.
Deplatforming of speakers on university campuses has been occurring in the UK as well as in the United States. The irony has not been lost on commentators that these practices are being allowed in institutes of learning which are supposed to be bastions of tolerance and the free exchange of ideas.