Update: In an embarrassing turn of events the Cambridge Union has been forced to admit that Julian Assange will be speaking via videolink to the ConventionCamp conference in Hanover, Germany, on 27th November. This follows the Union's announcement yesterday that Assange had cancelled on his planned Q&A at the Union on the same day due to "technical difficulties" after his spokesperson claimed that the event must be cancelled because his preferred broadcaster, Russia Today, was unable to arrange the technical aspects of the video link.
The Union statement said that: "The Union Society is disappointed in Mr Assange’s apparent dishonesty. We would have hoped that any individual or institution claiming to represent the interests of free speech and openness would be more straightforward in their dealings. We apologise to members for the confusion this has caused and the doubts that have arisen following Mr Assange’s misleading statement.
Had Mr Assange not cancelled, the question of his appearance would have been put to a vote this weekend. Had that vote decided to hold the event, it would have gone forward next week. The Union Committee hopes that the developments of the past week will galvanise more member involvement and feedback - while we reach out to members through feedback forms, college representatives, our website, our supplementary committee, and many other means, it is clear that we need a more representative way of gauging what members want. We hope members will consider joining us next term to discuss No Platform policies and the Union's invitation policy going forward. Only when we know exactly what members joined to participate in can we be certain how to provide for their wishes."
Original Article: The controversy surrounding the invitation of Julian Assange, who is currently living in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, to speak at the Cambridge Union next week has been temporarily halted by the announcement that the event has been cancelled.
Cambridge Union members were informed of the cancellation in an email this afternoon with Union President Austin Mahler confirming the surprise cancellation of the controversial event to Varsity, stating that: "Julian Assange has cancelled the Q&A scheduled for 27th November due to technical issues with the video link equipment in the Ecuadorian Embassy."
A post on the Union Facebook page explained that "because the Embassy does not have a strong internet connection, the only way to produce the live 2-way video feed was by relying on broadcast vans. The broadcast agency scheduled to handle the feed is no longer able to, and no other broadcast agencies with the capability have the equipment available on the 27th."
This cancellation comes at a convenient time for the Union, who have been facing increasing criticism over holding the event both from the CUSU Women’s Campaign and from their own members. After a new reading of the constitution was announced yesterday it was all but certain that the Union would be forced to hold a Special Business Meeting to discuss the event. The emergency meeting would have allowed Union members to vote on whether the event should go ahead, and was going to be called once 150 members signatures were submitted to the Union calling for Assange to be disinvited.
Susy Langsdale, CUSU Women's Officer said: "The CUSU Women's Campaign is delighted that the Union has cancelled Julian Assange coming to speak. We are, however, particularly amused by their suggestion that the founder of Wikileaks had to cancel a week in advance for technical reasons."
However she also criticised the Union's behaviour in this matter saying: "We are disappointed that the Union has not had the intellectual honesty to admit the real reasons for this disinvitation nor to respond directly to the 178 of their members who expressed concern at the Union’s failure to address the wider issues of rape culture."
In response the Union released a statement to Varsity this afternoon, expanding on their original comments on the cancellation: "We note the claim by Susy Langsdale, CUSU Women’s Officer, that this cancellation is due to a campaign opposing the event, however we would like to re-iterate that Mr Assange’s cancellation comes in light of the broadcaster cancelling, and is unrelated to the petition.
"It is unfortunate that these technical issues were discovered before the Union Society had the opportunity to fairly gauge members’ views through a Special Business Meeting, which was scheduled to be held this weekend, however the Women’s Campaign has withdrawn the requisition that was necessary to call this meeting. At the next opportunity, the Committee will be considering the possibility of holding a Special Business Meeting this term or next as a chance to discuss No Platform policies.
"The question of rescheduling the event will wait until after this discussion. We hope recent events will encourage more member involvement and discussion about the principles for which the Union exists. We also hope that they will act as a catalyst for more widespread awareness and education about rape culture."
However such a statement is unlikely to halt further speculation as to why the event was cancelled after an internal email asking “what is our official line of elaboration on the technical issues?" accidently became public this afternoon. However, the Union Press Secretary has insisted that: “The question was posed by a committee member in order to ascertain to what extent we were elaborating on the fact that the technical issues arose to the lack of a television broadcaster. I re-confirm that the only reason for Mr Assange's cancellation is the lack of a videolink between the Ecuadorian Embassy and the Union.”
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