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DOZENS of rights groups are calling for an end to censorship of Palestine campaigning in schools, saying countless students have faced reprisals for speaking up for the cause.
In an open letter, 26 organisations have expressed concerns about efforts to silence solidarity with Palestine following a crackdown on pro-Palestinian protests in schools last month.
The letter, penned by Palestine in Schools and published at the weekend, says the group has received countless cases of students being reprimanded, suspended and even expelled for publicly supporting the cause or displaying the Palestinian flag.
In some schools, discussions on Palestine have been outright banned, the letter reports, while students have faced threats of being reported to the government’s anti-extremism programme Prevent.
“Instead of praising their students for taking an interest in the world around them, schools are actively preventing their students from developing themselves politically,” the letter, signed by Black Lives Matter, policing monitoring group Netpol and anti-Islamophobia group Mend, says.
Netpol campaigns co-ordinator Kevin Blowe said it was deeply troubling that young people’s advocacy for Palestine is often conflated with either extremism or anti-semitism.
“For young Muslims in particular, the clampdown on dissenting voices on this issue comes with the ever-present threat of ‘anti-radicalisation’ interventions under the government’s Prevent programme, which we have long argued should be abolished,” he said.
Ismail Patel, chairman of Friends of Al-Aqsa, said: “By discouraging discussions about Palestine, the schools undermine freedom of speech and create a generation that will lack the ability to mark out what is wrong from right.”
The organisations also accuse Education Secretary Gavin Williamson of launching a “direct attack on young people of conscience” after he wrote to head teachers reminding them of their “legal obligation to political impartiality.”
“We demand that the government abandon its censorious and repressive approach to controlling such campaigning in schools,” the letter concludes.
The Department for Education said: “Schools must maintain political impartiality by law and we have recently provided useful resources to help schools teach in a balanced manner.”
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