Staffordshire University has apologised to a postgraduate student who was falsely accused of terrorism after he was seen reading a book entitled Terrorism Studies in the library. The literature formed part of Mohammed Umar Farooq's research as he was enrolled in the institution's terrorism, crime and security Master's course.
The postgraduate student said he was interrogated by a university official about his views on homosexuality, Islamic State (Isis) and Al-Qaeda in March. Despite emphasising his opposition to extremist views, Farooq was reported to security guards by the official as the conversation had raised "too many red flags".
"I could not believe it. I was reading an academic textbook and minding my own business. At first I thought I'd just laugh it off as a joke," the 33-year-old said. The student later left the course and enlisted the help of a lawyer to help him challenge the accusations.
Explaining his decision to contest the unfounded claims, Farooq said: "The implications if I did not challenge this could be serious for me. I could go on a police list, I could be investigated without my knowledge. This could happen to any young Muslim lad. I had to fight back." He added that he had been "looking over his shoulder" since the incident.
Following three months of investigations, Staffordshire University apologised to Farooq, saying it was "very sorry" over the "misjudged" episode. The institution said it was the consequence of enforcing the government's "Prevent" strategy, which "aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism".
"We have apologised to Mr Farooq and are in dialogue with him on how we can support him to continue his studies with us. In light of recent legislation, we are ensuring all staff at the university have the right guidance and training," said Dr Noel Morrison, director of student experience at Staffordshire University, as reported by the Guardian.
Accusations against Muslim students
The incident has raised concerns over Muslim students being singled out and accused of terrorist activities solely because of their faith. "I believe it is absolutely unacceptable for individuals or groups of students to be targeted because of their race, religion or mental health conditions," said Megan Dunn, president of the National Union of Students (NUS).
"I have consistently raised several serious concerns over the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and Prevent. Students must feel free to learn, explore their politics and campaign on social justice issues while at university.
"However we are seeing students worry about being unfairly singled out and staff being forced to monitor students under vague guidelines that damage academic relationships and the education system as a whole. The evidence suggests our fears are again being confirmed."
Earlier in September, reports surfaced that a 14-year-old Muslim schoolboy had been questioned about IS following a class conversation on environmental activism in which he mentioned the term "ecoterrorist" to refer to people who spike trees with nails to prevent them from being hacked down. The incident took place in May at north London's Central Foundation Boys' School and the student's parents are taking legal action.