A second year Politics student at the University of Sussex has been sentenced to 15 months in prison following a charge of violent disorder, after he was arrested at the education demonstration against fees and cuts on 10 November 2010.

Zenon Mitchell Kotsakis was sentenced at Kingston Crown Court on Friday 4 November, under the Public Order Act, 1986. He was charged with violent disorder for what the Students’ Union describes in a statement as: “not harming another person, but throwing a placard stick”.

A joint statement issued by the USSU and UCU (Universities and Colleges Union) expresses concern for Kotsakis, and others in his position, saying: “the University of Sussex Students Union are shocked by the draconian jail sentences given to a number of student protestors, most recently a Sussex student”.

An open letter has been written by students, staff and alumni of the University of Sussex to The Guardian, and is fully supported by the University of Sussex Students’ Union, and by the Sussex University and College Union Executive Committee. The letter includes the following statement(s): “This is one of a series of entirely disproportionate sentences given to student protesters recently […] It is clear that such severe sentences are political and meant to deter young people from demonstrating in the name of equality and social justice. “We cannot countenance our friend and fellow being held up as an example in order to scare people away from protest.

“We call on university senior managers to support their students in cases like this. Justice demands that this sentence be overturned and the student immediately released”.

It is of concern to the University, the Union and Kotsakis’ family, friends and fellow students whether he will be able to return to Sussex to complete his studies when he is released. William McEvoy, lecturer in English at the University of Sussex, attended a demonstration outside the Sussex Police Station, John Street, Brighton, on Saturday 5 November at 2pm.

Around 50 people attended the demonstration, which was peaceful. “I think we as academics need to support fair sentencing and just sentencing, not sentencing that’s either political or exemplary. “I think this type of sentencing is used to intimidate students and to dissuade them from manifesting their dissent to unfair policies, especially in relation to higher education”, said McEvoy.

He also added: “I think he should be allowed to finish his degree at Sussex. “His place should be kept for him, and that he should be allowed to return to the university after he has served his sentence, at the same fee levels on which he entered”.

Kotsakis’ parents are also reported to be writing an open letter to a national newspaper to raise awareness of their son’s situation, although this is yet to be confirmed.

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