University of Queensland bans chants as pro-Palestine camp in Melbourne threatened over fire safety rules

<span>The University of Melbourne has threatened pro-Palestine protesters with expulsion over their encampment, saying it poses a safety and fire risk.</span><span>Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP</span>
The University of Melbourne has threatened pro-Palestine protesters with expulsion over their encampment, saying it poses a safety and fire risk.Photograph: Joel Carrett/AAP

Universities are ramping up crackdowns on pro-Palestine protesters camped on campuses, with the University of Queensland warning students could face disciplinary action for chanting “out, out, Israel out” or using the word “intifada”.

Students at multiple universities have been defying administrators’ orders to pack up encampments, vowing to continue their protests against institutions’ ties to weapons manufacturers linked to Israel’s war in Gaza.

Melbourne’s La Trobe University said it would commence “misconduct proceedings” against protesters at an encampment.

Related: Pro-Palestine protesters vow to rally as La Trobe joins universities enforcing encampment ban

“Today the university informed the organisers of the student encampment at our Melbourne (Bundoora) campus that it will commence misconduct proceedings against them for their failure to comply with our 17 May directive to disband the encampment,” the university said in a statement.

“Although the protests at La Trobe have been relatively peaceful and no classes have been interrupted to date, the university has considered the risks associated with the continued encampment activity, and has taken this decision in the interests of the safety, wellbeing and amenity of all campus users and visitors.”

The University of Melbourne has also threatened activists with expulsion over their encampment in the Arts West building, saying on Monday that it poses a safety and fire risk.

In an email sent to University of Queensland (UQ) encampment organisers on Friday, the deputy vice-chancellor, Prof Kris Ryan, said the expression “intifada” – the Arabic word for uprising that was displayed on some posters on campus – could be considered threatening, intimidating or harassing to some people.

The email, viewed by Guardian Australia, also warned protesters against chanting the phrase “out, out, Israel out”.

“The use of the words ‘out, out, Israel out’ at the protest yesterday in the context of harassing and intimidating behaviours, and the placement of antisemitic stickers on windows and students, go beyond the limits of free speech,” the email said.

Ryan urged the protesters to take “appropriate action to address the unacceptable behaviours”, warning failure to do so could result in disciplinary action.

Liam Parry, from Students for Palestine University of Queensland, described the move as “overreach”.

A UQ spokesperson told the Guardian the university “is committed to proactive engagement with the protestors, the key objective of which is to agree a peaceful resolution and to discontinue the camps as soon as possible”.

“We are aware that phrases associated with the recent protests are subject to broader debate. Therefore, we are considering on a case-by-case basis the context within which these expressions are used and taking action where needed,” the spokesperson said.

The University of Sydney vice-chancellor, Mark Scott, wrote an opinion piece in The Australian on Monday, saying chants such as “intifada” and “from the river to the sea” did not cross a line to hate speech. But speaking to 2GB radio, he apologised to students who felt unsafe on campus.

The federal attorney general earlier this month dismissed a request by the Group of Eight leading tertiary institutions for formal legal advice on pro-Palestine phrases, saying people could already make a complaint under the Racial Discrimination Act.

It came as the University of Melbourne vice-chancellor, Duncan Maskell, issued a notice to students camped within the Arts West building that an inspection of the building, conducted on Friday, found it “unfit for occupation”.

“The inspection found multiple examples of damage inside the building, including to essential safety measures such as damage and obstructions to required emergency exits, fire panel access, and fire-fighting equipment,” the notice said.

It warned that protesters who failed to depart the university would be trespassing and could be referred to Victoria police, with students in breach of the directive facing enrolment sanctions, suspensions or terminations.

A group of students have been camped within the building since Wednesday afternoon.

Related: University of Melbourne and protesters fail to resolve deadlock as pro-Palestine camp ends at Monash

In a statement on Monday morning, the University of Melbourne said more than 15,000 students had been affected due to class disruptions in the building being rescheduled or cancelled. It said the building would be closed on Monday and Tuesday, with the university making alternative arrangements.

“The continued occupation of university sites presents an unacceptable risk to the safety, security and work of our entire community,” the statement said.

The Executive Council of Australian Jewry’s co-CEO, Alex Ryvchin, backed the university’s directive.

On social media, the University of Melbourne for Palestine group said the local National Tertiary Education Union branch’s health and safety representatives had found “no obstruction to required emergency exits, no obstruction to fire panel access; in addition, the fire-fighting equipment appeared to be in good working order”.

The Victoria police acting assistant commissioner Mark Galliot told ABC radio on Monday officers had not been requested to intervene.