Update occupation Ufo building: judgment of the Court of Appeal

(14-06-2024) Message from Rector Rik Van de Walle to all Ghent University staff and students.

Dear colleagues and students,

Since 6 May 2024, Ghent University’s Ufo building has been occupied by activists. The occupation implies that the Ufo building currently cannot be used for purposes that are part of the core tasks of Ghent University.

It will come as no surprise when I state that the security aspects associated with the occupation of the Ufo have concerned me for some time.

The situation at the Ufo therefore forced me last week to pursue legal means: because the occupation was not stopped voluntarily, Ghent University asked the Court of First Instance in Ghent to discontinue it.

The president of the Ghent Court of First Instance did not follow Ghent University’s request last Friday, on which Ghent University appealed against that ruling earlier this week. Today, the Ghent Court of Appeal did decide to respond to our request to expel the occupiers. In doing so, the appeal court stated, among other things, the following:

(extract of judgment)


Irrespective of the finding

  • that the university is pre-eminently a place where protest and a clash of ideas should be possible,
  • that students have the right to protest peacefully and to bring certain social issues to the attention of the university or (more broadly) society,
  • that the Ufo building is a public building of the university, with free access;

The court cannot ignore the fact that the situation - after the not to be underestimated skirmishes on 24 May 2024 for which several official reports were drawn up - has further escalated on site and that there is no longer (only) a purely peaceful protest initiated by committed students.

Not only the duration of the occupation (it started on 6 May 2024) but especially the extent of the occupation has become problematic. It suffices to compare the situation on 25 May 2024, as it appears from the bailiff's report, with the situation on 5 June 2024, as it appears from the bailiff's report of that date.

Using numerous pallets, the activists have built an unstable wooden structure in the Ufo building. There is a makeshift kitchen in which third parties (volunteers/non-students) cook. For this purpose, power is used in rampant ways. Sockets, cover plates and cables have been vandalised. All this poses serious risks of fire.

Furthermore, evacuation can no longer be guaranteed. Associated disturbances (vandalism, sexually transgressive behaviour, theft) continue to increase. All this calls for an end to the action as it is currently being conducted.

The activists are currently using the Ufo building in a way for which it is not at all equipped, intended and insured. There is - as Ghent University conclusively demonstrates with its documents - at present serious security risks.

The activists were given the time and facilities to make their views clear for a considerable period of time. Ghent University has been open to talks, has partly acceded to the activists' demands and has sought mediation. To date, the action has also had a considerable cost for Ghent University (in damages some EUR 18,978.70 - in additional surveillance some EUR 34,332.54).

The fact that the activists wish to remain anonymous shows their unwillingness to take any responsibility in this matter. Meanwhile, Ghent University has given the activists more than enough time to evacuate the Ufo building. The measures claimed by the university are therefore both subsidiary and proportionate. They are in no way intended to curtail the activists' freedom of expression and right to protest now that their point has been made and their demands have been met in part (and in a concerted and transparent manner).

Needless to say, Ghent University shows that it needs the Ufo building for a congress that will take place on 8, 9 and 10 July next, for which 750 people have already registered.

The appeal is well-founded. The claim, as stated in the main order, can succeed on the understanding that the requested two hour deadline is increased to 12 hours.

The full judgment can be found on https://www.rechtbanken-tribunaux.be/sites/default/files/media/hbca/gent/files/20240613-k-1-uittreksel-arrest-hof-van-beroep-gent-bezetting-universiteitsgebouw.pdf

While I regret that we were forced by the events to take the judicial route, I am obviously satisfied with the decision of the Court of Appeal.

I once again call on the activists to voluntarily stop the occupation of Ghent University infrastructure in the coming hours and use other means to make their voices heard, thus avoiding eviction.

Rik Van de Walle