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British-Palestinian schoolgirl’s speech restored to website following outcry

Leanne Mohamad
Leanne Mohamad from Wanstead High School, London [Studiobase Photography / speakoutchallenge.com]

A British-Palestinian schoolgirl’s winning speech has been restored to the website of a leading public speaking competition, following protests over censorship and hate speech.

Leanne Mohamad, a 15-year-old student at Wanstead High School in London, won a regional final of the Jack Petchey Speak Out Challenge with her speech ‘Birds not Bombs’, in which she describes the historical and contemporary reality for Palestinians under Israeli settler colonialism.

The video of Mohamad’s speech was subsequently removed from the website, with a report in The Jewish Chronicle claiming that Speakers Trust had prevented Mohamad from advancing in the competition following complaints by an anti-Palestinian blogger.

On June 1, the video was restored to the ‘Speak Out Challenge’ website with this comment: “Following temporary suspension to safeguard a minor, we are now able to reinstate the video of our Redbridge Regional Final champion Leanne Mohamad, with authorisation from her family.”

In an official statement, the competition organisers explained that Mohamad has not proceeded to the final through an impartial decision-making process, consistent with the mechanisms of the contest, and before the complaint was made by the anti-Palestinian blogger.

In addition, Speakers Trust CEO has now reportedly claimed that her letter to anti-Palestinian blogger Edgar Davidson was “inaccurately represented” and “made public without her consent.”

A copy of the video published on YouTube by Middle East Monitor has been viewed more than 50,000 times, while the controversy was also covered by AJ+. A petition on Change.org urging the competition organisers to ‘uncensor’ Mohamad has attracted more than 6,600 signatures to date.

Meanwhile, Redbridge Police are “investigating allegations of malicious communications” in relation to attacks on Mohamad on social media. The head of Mohamad’s school, Wanstead High, said: “using social media to harass anyone, especially a young person, is always completely wrong.”

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