London - A blind student was ‘dragged by his ankles’ and thrown out of a meeting at one of the UK’s most prestigious debating societies, it has been alleged.
Ebenezer Azamati was expelled from a meeting of the Oxford Union as he tried to attend a discussion on the motion ‘This House has no confidence in HM Government’.
The 25-year-old had reserved a seat by leaving a book on an accessible chair near the entrance as he feared there would be no special provisions for disabled students.
After having dinner at his college, he returned – but officials refused to let him stay for reasons which are unclear and a video appears to show them manhandling him out of his seat.
Mr Azamati, a postgraduate from Ghana studying international relations at St John’s College, can be seen and heard becoming distressed in footage posted online. In last month’s incident he can also be seen holding on to the back of his chair, with his white cane visible, while an official seems to pull him out of his seat.
Oxford Union president Brendan McGrath called a disciplinary meeting where it was alleged Mr Azamati had behaved aggressively and thrust his arms out as he was being removed from his chair.
This was followed by a private appeal hearing this weekend when Mr Azamati was represented by Helen Mountfield QC, principal of Mansfield College, Oxford.
A copy of the appeal said he was ‘not violent but acted in alarm... as a blind man who had been assaulted... and who feared being pulled to the floor’.
Witnesses also testified, including student Henry Hatwell, 21. He said: ‘Thirty seconds after he [Azamati] sat down, the security guard came in. Five seconds after he started touching Azamati, who was holding on to the bench.
‘Thirty seconds later they were dragging him by his ankles.’
A copy of the appeal also revealed Mrs Mountfield said: ‘A white blind man would not have been treated in the way he was.’
Students and campaign groups, including the Oxford University Africa Society, protested on Mr Azamati’s behalf and called on Mr McGrath to resign.
On Facebook, the society told of ‘its profound gratitude to everyone in Oxford and beyond who has expressed solidarity to expose the Union’s injustice’.
Mr Azamati told The Sunday Times: ‘Being publicly removed made me feel unwelcome in the Union, Oxford and even the country. I feel I was treated as not being human enough to deserve justice and fair treatment.
‘This made me feel very distressed and traumatised. All that I have, and all that matters to me, is my good name and that was dragged through the mud.’
The Union has now formally withdrawn the charge of violent misconduct and apologised ‘unreservedly for the distress and reputational damage’ caused.
The Africa Society has also called for a public announcement of disciplinary action against staff.
An Oxford University spokesman said: ‘The Union is an independent society. The university has no control over its events.’