Oxford Union under fire after blind student dragged

The Oxford Union — a university debating society with many top British politicians among its former presidents — has been criticized for its treatment of a blind student who was “dragged by his ankles” before being escorted from the debating chamber last month.

Ebenezer Azamati, a postgraduate student from Ghana, was at the Oxford Union on Oct. 17 for a debate on the British government when witnesses said security personnel attempted to remove him from the venue by force.

Nwamaka Ogbonna, president of the Oxford University Africa Society (OUAS), told CNN that Azamati had arrived early to reserve a seat. He then stepped out for dinner before returning to “reclaim his seat.”

Citing what Azamati and other eyewitnesses told her, Ogbonna said: “He is then accosted by the security person who says he can’t sit because the place is full and the debate is about to begin.”

After sitting down in a seat offered by another attendee, the same security man slapped Azamati’s thigh and tried to pull him from his chair, Ogbonna said.

Henry Hatwell, a 21-year-old law student who witnessed the incident, told CNN that Azamati was “dragged by his ankles” by the security guard in an unsuccessful attempt to get him off his seat. After Azamati resisted, a friend intervened and Azamati left the room with security.

A video of the incident, shared with CNN by OUAS, shows Azamati trying to resist attempts to make him leave and asking for his seized Oxford Union membership card to be given back.

In a tweet, OUAS said it strongly condemned “the violent, unjust, inhumane, and shameful treatment” of Azamati.

Following the incident, the Oxford Union brought a complaint against Azamati for “violent misconduct” and in a hearing last month he was banned from the Oxford Union until May 2020, according to OUAS.

This claim was dropped after an appeal hearing on Saturday, and the Union president, Brendan McGrath, apologized “unreservedly” for the distress and reputational damage caused to Azamati, according to a statement by OUAS.

In the same statement, OUAS called for a public apology from both the Union and the president, as well as details on how the Union will compensate Azamati. It also called for the security guard to be punished.

Hatwell, the eyewitness, told CNN that the incident represented a “disproportionate use of force,” and was “distressing and humiliating” for Azamati.

Hatwell said he, OUAS and others are attempting to bring impeachment charges against McGrath for his handling of the situation.

CNN has approached the Oxford Union, McGrath and Azamati for comment.