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QUB in censorship row after cancelling summit on Charlie Hebdo attack

By Sara Neill

Published 22/04/2015

Queen's University Belfast yesterday pulled the plug on the event scheduled for early June, citing a
Queen's University Belfast yesterday pulled the plug on the event scheduled for early June, citing a "security risk" and concern over the institution's reputation

A university that hosted conferences throughout the Troubles has been accused of censorship after it cancelled a conference to discuss the fallout from the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

Queen's University Belfast yesterday pulled the plug on the event scheduled for early June, citing a "security risk" and concern over the institution's reputation.

Now a journalist who was due to take part has suggested the university may have invented the threat out of concern that a speaker may cause offence.

In January, two Islamist gunmen forced their way into the Paris headquarters of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and gunned down 11 people, including journalists, cartoonists and columnists. A policeman was also killed outside.

It is believed the magazine was targeted as it had controversially published images of the prophet Muhammad.

Around 20 academics were booked to speak at the conference but an email on Monday stated it was being called off.

The email stated: "The vice chancellor at Queen's University Belfast has made the decision just this morning that he does not wish our symposium to go ahead.

"He is concerned about the security risk for delegates and about the reputation of the university."

But journalist Jason Walsh believes that QUB's reputation will suffer more due to the cancellation.

"I'm actually from Belfast, so I find the idea of security risk somewhat puzzling," he said.

"There were no shortage of security risks during the Troubles and I'm sure no university decided that merely speaking on an issue was too dangerous.

"I can't speak to the nature of the apparent risk, but it seems more likely to me that the subject matter was simply considered too toxic to touch, which is in itself puzzling, as I would hardly expect particularly strong viewpoints from academics," he said.

Oxford University philosophy professor Brian Klug was due to be a keynote speaker.

He said he was baffled and dismayed by the university's decision.

"I don't understand either of his concerns. The second - the reputation of the university - strikes me as ironic, as his action does not exactly reflect well on Queens," he said.

A spokesperson for the PSNI said police were not aware of a threat, but were looking into the matter.

Queen's declined to comment further.

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