The Oxford Union has been heavily criticised after a blind student was reportedly “dragged by his ankles” out of a debating chamber, leading to calls for the union president to resign.
The incident, which was caught on video and described by the Oxford University Africa Society (OUAS) as “violent, unjust, inhumane and shameful”, left the student feeling “unwelcome in the union, Oxford and even the country”.
Ebenezer Azamati, 25, a postgraduate student from Ghana studying international relations, is said to have arrived early to attend a debate – about whether it was right to feel confident in the UK government – on 17 October in order to reserve an accessible seat, as he was concerned that there was no special provision for disabled people. He then left to eat dinner at his college.
When he returned before the start of the debate, Azamati was refused entry, but when a friend arrived to accompany him, he went inside and sat down. Shortly afterwards, security officials entered and manhandled him out of the building. His union card was confiscated and he was expelled from the union.
The Sunday Times reported that the union’s president, Brendan McGrath, subsequently called a disciplinary committee meeting, alleging that Azamati had behaved violently by thrusting an arm out and using aggressive hand gestures as he was being removed from his seat.
Azamati told the Sunday Times: “I felt that I was treated as not being human enough to deserve justice and fair treatment.”
An appeal hearing on Saturday heard evidence from fellow student Henry Hatwell, 21, who said: “Thirty seconds after he [Azamati] sat down, the security guard came in. Five seconds afterwards, he started touching Azamati, who was holding on to the bench. Thirty seconds later, they were dragging him by his ankles.”
On Saturday, the union and McGrath formally withdrew the charge of violent misconduct against Azamati and apologised “unreservedly” for the distress and damage caused.
The OUAS has launched a petition calling for McGrath to resign his position after he “personally lodged a complaint against Mr Azamati for violent behaviour”, which had more than 1,000 signatures at 10pm on Sunday night.
The petition also calls for:
An “unreserved” apology to Azamati from both the union and the president
The cancellation of Azamati’s ban and a reinstatement of his union membership
“Adequate” punishment of “the security personnel who assaulted” Azamati
Compensation for Azamati.
Nwamaka Ogbonna, OUAS president, said on Sunday that none of the demands had yet been met. “We have yet to see a public apology from the union or from Brendan McGrath,” she said. “There have been no details of how the union will be held to account, no details on compensation, and he [McGrath] is yet to resign.”
Ogbonna said OUAS hoped to work with other university institutions to pressure the union.
“It should be a safe and inclusive space for everyone,” she said. “They can’t just declare him not guilty and expect this to go away. This is far from being closed – there must be wider institutional change.”
More than 100 people attended a protest on Friday that repeated the demands of the petition.
The incident has also caught the attention of several high-profile figures, including Labour politician David Lammy, who described “the indignity [Azamati] suffered” as “beyond comprehension”, saying he deserves “far more than an apology”.
The Guardian has contacted the Oxford Union for comment.