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Press Release by BUAV January 2003

Anti-vivisection students win “unfair censorship” victory against Open University

Anti-vivisection students win 'unfair censorship' victory against Open University

This month sees the publication of the first issue of the Open University's (OU) newspaper Sesame with an advertisement questioning animal experiments reinstated after a fierce ‘censorship' battle by students.

Sesame had refused to publish a number of advertisements by Students For Ethical Science (SES) about animal experiments at the OU. One advert read simply,

Stop animal suffering at the OU - the OU kills thousands of animals each year for research and teaching. Students for Ethical Science challenges this practice

SES was told that the

'Head of Biology, has stated that neither he nor anyone in Bioscience would be prepared to allow animal suffering. If indeed this were the case then their licences would be withdrawn and prosecution would follow”. SES was also threatened with the allegation that their adverts were “incorrect and defamatory and may be actionably libellous.'

SES recruited the help of the UK's leading anti-vivisection campaigners, the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) who have many years experience tackling animal testing companies and the UK government. The BUAV helped SES demonstrate that the OU's accusations were clearly ridiculous and ill-informed, and that their objection to the adverts amounted to unjustifiable censorship and a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights.

Under UK law (1) experiments on live animals only need to be licensed if they ‘may have the effect of causing [the] animal pain, suffering, distress or lasting harm'. The OU's claim that its licensed animal experimentation didn't cause suffering was clearly wrong, as was its claim that a prosecution could be brought if the animals did suffer. SES's advert simply drew attention to the fact that animals suffer in OU experiments.

Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights (incorporated into UK law as the Human Rights Act 1998), safeguards the right to freedom of expression and section 12 of the 1998 Act stresses the importance to be attached to this right. Public authorities such as the OU must respect that right.

After 19 months of communication, SES and the BUAV were delighted to hear that the OU had finally backed down fully and all the original text of the advert was reinstated.

Vivien Pomfrey from SES said:

'The Open University's thousands of students and staff have a right to know what their university does, and to know that they can challenge it without censorship. The university's much-trumpeted openness has been lamentably lacking when it comes to the thorny issue of animal experimentation. More openness means more opportunities for biology students to demand alternatives to animal experiments. More opt-outs mean fewer animals used and more ethical biology graduates, and a gathering momentum towards cruelty-free science.'

Wendy Higgins, BUAV Campaigns Director said:

'We're delighted at this victory but it's shameful that students were even challenged for printing an obvious truth about vivisection, that it causes animal suffering. This demonstrates how far those who experiment on animals are prepared to go to keep their activities away from public scrutiny, and how important it is that those who oppose vivisection fight for their right to be heard.'


  1. Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986
  2. OU students are widely distributed across Britain and the rest of the world. The OU's headquarters are at Walton Hall, Milton Keynes.
  3. OU's animal research takes place at the Milton Keynes site. OU's educational animal use takes place at the medical school associated with Nottingham University.
  4. Contact Vivien Pomfrey, see contacts page
  5. Contact Wendy Higgins, BUAV's Campaigns Director