London Student has obtained video footage of physical violence and threats against students on a hard picket line in favour of the UCU strike, during an altercation that is currently being investigated by SOAS.
As a group of students formed a physical barrier to prevent the entry of staff and students into SOAS, an altercation took place in which a member of staff threatened to punch a student to death.
Although the ‘hard picket’ was organised in solidarity with striking lecturers, who were protesting cuts that would leave them £10,000 a year worse off in retirement, it was organised without any prior coordination with UCU or SOAS students’ union.
Described by the organisers as a ‘last resort’ to pressure UUK into negotiations and avoid the disruption that would be caused by further strikes during the exam period, the ‘hard picket’ proved controversial with both staff and students. An emergency meeting of SOAS SU voted to condemn the tactic.
Violence broke out on the 16th of March, with picketers reportedly being ‘repeatedly punched, kicked, and manhandled’ as students and staff attempted to push past the picket. Footage showed the chaos that ensued, with one student involved in the picket having to be rushed to hospital after her knee was dislocated during the clash. Over the following days and weeks, students and lecturers accused each other of instigating the violence.
Media coverage focused almost entirely on allegations of violence against one picketing student, Hamish Anderson. Two SOAS lecturers, Professor Lawrence Saez and Dr Idil Osman told The Times that Anderson had kicked and punched them during the picket.
Dimitri Cautain, an officer at the students’ union, disputed the allegation, telling The Times that the allegations against Anderson were not supported by ‘the videos, CCTV footage and witness statements’ that the students’ union had received. Students involved with the picket alleged that Anderson had been acting purely in self-defence, with both lecturers physically assaulting him prior to the alleged incident.
Footage obtained by London Student calls into question Osman’s account, clearly showing her harassing and intimidating students on the picket line. In the video, Anderson tells Osman that he kicked her in self-defence after she punched him in the face. Osman responds by threatening to ‘punch’ Anderson ‘to death’, while SOAS management fail to intervene.
One person present at the incident told London Student that Osman was verbally and physically abusive towards students, and that she initiated the violence. ‘She punched Hamish in the face and kicked another student, who was cut on the leg by the force of her trying to break the picket.’ According to the witness, Osman then left and returned after ten minutes, at which point the video was taken.
The academics’ allegations subsequently featured in the Daily Mail and The Sun, with Anderson personally targeted for ridicule as a ‘middle class Jeremy Corbyn supporter.’ One student involved in the picket described to London Student how the tabloid press had engaged in a campaign of harassment against Anderson, with journalists allegedly showing up at his home and harassing his family. Another picketer told London Student that ‘lazy and inaccurate coverage’ had led to ‘campaigns of mass harassment and vitriol against Hamish.’
SOAS soon launched an investigation into the allegations against Anderson, an investigation that is still ongoing. One source, who wished to remain anonymous, told London Student that the students’ union had been excluded from the investigation, which seemed to be ignoring accusations of violence by the lecturers themselves.
A friend of Anderson agreed, telling London Student that SOAS have not given any indication that they are investigating claims of assault and harassment made against Osman.
Our source told London Student that repeated emails to the students’ union appeared to make no mention of the allegations that Osman and Professor Saez had initiated the violence, and that the investigation resembled a ‘student disciplinary procedure’ rather than an impartial inquiry.
A witness to the day’s events told London Student that she was not aware of any witness, including students and staff, who had been asked for testimony by SOAS.
The individual raised concerns that even if SOAS are investigating allegations made against Osman and Professor Saez, the investigation is being conducted by academic heads of department and so cannot be considered impartial.
One picketer who spoke to London Student alleged that the staff member investigating the claims of violence has had a negative history with the students involved, and that complaints about this fact were ignored by SOAS management.
Moreover, students involved with the picket are concerned that narratives pushed by the tabloid press will influence the outcome of the investigation. One student expressed concern that SOAS had failed in its duty of care towards Anderson, with the media campaign against him a form of harassment enabled by Osman and Professor Saez.
SOAS told London Student that they take ‘any reports of assault or harassment extremely seriously and will fully investigate any complaints made’. Neither Osman nor Anderson was able to comment.