A British Palestinian girl was banned from the finals of a prestigious youth public speaking competition in the UK. The girl, 15 years old Leanne Mohamad, had previously won the Redbridge regional youth competition in London on May 19th where she spoke about the injustices faced by the Palestinian people under Israeli occupation. She ended her speech by waving a small Palestinian flag and shouting "Let's together all say Free Palestine".
Shortly after her win the video of her speech went viral on the web and people showed a lot of support. But some dark forces got involved at some point and something radical happened: The article that announced Leanne's win was removed from the competition's official website (www.speakoutchallenge.com) and the speech video removed from their official YouTube channel. Not only that but Leanne was not on the list of the 15 regional winners qualified for the finals.
Of course we are in 2016 and thanks to social media this stuff does not go unnoticed. The internet was angry: Hashtag #LetLeanneSpeak was attracting a lot of attention, people launched an online petition on change.org asking to uncensor the schoolgirl. On may 31st a joint statement from "Speakers Trust" and the "Jack Petchey Foundation" who run the competition stated that the video of Leanne’s speech was removed because of "vile and hateful comments posted online" and for her own protection.
You can read the whole statement here or just read the most relevant parts below:
On 19th May Leanne Mohamad from Wanstead High School was chosen from among 19 finalists as the 2015/6 Redbridge Regional Final winner. She was chosen by an independent panel of judges.
As a Regional Final winner the speech was posted online. Following vile and hateful comments posted online during this Bank Holiday weekend Speakers Trust removed the video of Leanne’s speech. We will not tolerate trolling of young people. As a small charity without the capacity to moderate comments 24 hours a day it was considered essential to protect Leanne by temporarily suspending the regional video until we were able to consult fully with her school and family.
In terms of progression in the competition – all 37 talented Regional Final champions were entered into the semi-final on Saturday 21st May. Only 15 of these can reach the Grand Final stage. A panel of judges selected the top 15 speeches without any external influence or input and prior to any of the issues that emerged this weekend. The general “rules” of effective public speaking in the Challenge are guidelines to help speakers to create a speech that will connect with a large and diverse audience and every speech was judged on its own merits.
All the young people who were selected were notified in the week after 21st May. Leanne Mohamad was not selected. She does however remain the Redbridge Regional Winner for 2016.
Both the Jack Petchey Foundation and Speakers Trust which runs the Challenge have a primary duty of care to the young people we work with and we cannot accept any form of abuse against them.
We are determined that all of our young speakers, irrespective of background, race or religion, should be able to speak out in a safe and supportive environment. In our society people have the right to hold and express different views or perspectives. It is important that young people can express these, challenge and question in an appropriate manner and learn to live with each other in peace.