Update: 16th November 2012
The Union has defended its decision to invite Assange to speak stating they have "decided to host this interview on condition that no questions will be forbidden." They also stated that "the Union feels that free speech is not just about being heard – it is everyone’s right to hear, question, and challenge individuals and their ideas in the public sphere".
They also responded to CUSU's action against the event, saying: "we recognise the valid concerns raised by the CUSU Women’s Campaign and those who signed the petition to cancel the event. The disempowerment of voices is exactly contrary to the principles of the Union Society, and it is in this vein that we approached the Women’s Campaign to offer them the forum to have those voices heard. They felt that this would not be appropriate at the current time. We respect that decision and hope the opportunity will arise in the future."
They also argued that "we have made every effort to work with the Women’s Campaign to take their views on board and make sure their voices are heard." As part of their process of gauging Union members reactions an email was sent to Union members yesterday by their women's officer, Lauren Steele, asking for feedback.
The Union has also acknowledged that a "Special Business Meeting" as outlined in the societies constitution could be used if enough members felt that the issue deserved addressing. This means that even if the Standing Committee decided not to disinvite Assange, Union members could potentially cause the event to be cancelled if they wished.
Original Article: 14th November 2012
The CUSU Women's Campaign have launched a petition to revoke Julian Assange's invitation to speak at the Cambridge Union. Assange is currently scheduled to speak at the Union from the Ecuadorian Embassy in London via videolink on November 27th and is currently facing extradition to Sweden to face trial for sexual assault if he steps foot on British territory.
The petition, which is open to anyone to sign and has already received over 400 signatures, criticisesthe Union for "riding on a tide of publicity created from the traumatic experiences of rape survivors to raise the profile of their own name."
Susy Langsdale, CUSU Women's Officer, told Varsity: "The CUSU Women's Campaign is deeply disappointed that the current committee of Cambridge Union Society have decided to re-invite Assange. Yet again, the Cambridge Union Society is enabling the rebuilding of the public personae of an alleged rapist. By inviting Assange, and Strauss Kahn previously, the Cambridge Union Society are colluding in the horrific silence and shame around rape."
She added that "we want the Cambridge Union Society to understand that what they are doing is not only a Cambridge based issue but a national one. They are disregarding the voices of survivors of rape across the country through their continued offering of platform to alleged rapists. We expect our university to set a positive model for supporting survivors of rape."
One commentator on the petition page said: "The Union thinks they are being clever & edgy. They are not. They are shameful". If the Union does not agree to disinvite Assange, the Women's Campaign plan to stage a protest at the event.
However the Union seems unlikely to disinvite Assange, who previously spoke at in person back in March 2011 and they have repeatedly put forward the argument that they are not endorsing the views or actions of controversial speakers such as Strauss Kahn or Assange. Instead they suggest they are simply = facilitating debate on the topics that their members are interested in.