The Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) is investigating a series of “intimidating” tweets sent to an academic at Queen’s University Belfast (QUB) by a loyalist, the Sunday Independent has learned.
Three complaints have been filed by Colin Harvey, professor of human rights law at the QUB Law School, regarding multiple social media posts in February, June and earlier this month.
PSNI Superintendent Gerard Pollock said the complaints related to “social media comments directed at an individual”.
“An investigation has been opened to establish whether any offenses have been committed and investigations are continuing,” he said in a statement.
Professor Harvey, a fellow of the Senator George J Mitchell Institute for Global Peace, Security and Justice and an associate fellow of the Institute of Irish Studies, has been repeatedly criticized on social media for voicing his views on constitutional issues , Brexit, Protocol, the Conservative Party and trade unionism.
He regularly tweeted about the social issues affecting a post-Trouble Northern Ireland, his favorable view of a united Ireland and his criticisms of loyalism and Unionist leadership.
The Sunday Independent saw dozens of tweets directed at him by mostly anonymous social media accounts claiming to be of British descent, loyalist or former members of the security forces.
When Professor Harvey suggested it was “time” to “end” the Union, one Twitter user replied: “We used to behead traitors like this.” Another wrote: ‘Colin Harvey should be cancelled.
Outspoken loyalist Jamie Bryson, who has links to the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF), has tweeted about Professor Harvey almost 50 times.
When the academic wrote: ‘The Irish Government must take direct responsibility for enabling the collective effort to prepare for the future of a shared island’, Mr Bryson, a regular commentator on some BBC programs in Northern Ireland North, was quick to respond.
In a tweet, he wrote: “QUB making it pretty clear that they have gone beyond politics and research and are now partisan activists.”
Prof Harvey said the online abuse he has faced ‘often resembles a coordinated campaign’ and appears to be closely linked to his academic work and public engagement on issues concerning the constitutional future, in particular the option of a united Ireland.
“Sometimes I struggle to understand why I have become the target of so much anger, and the intensity of it is concerning. not be surprised that people like me want good planning and even have an opinion on the outcome,” he said.
He said constitutional goals “are meant to be equally legitimate” and should be “uncontroversial work”.
“I firmly believe that everything I have done falls comfortably within the framework of the Good Friday Agreement and its implementation in good faith. In a post-Brexit environment, it would be irresponsible not to make the required preparation.
He believes the “targeted harassment campaign” is intended to try to “derail these efforts”.
“That’s not happening, people are pushing. They are right to do so. And that determination sends its own message.
A representative of the QUB management team is in constant contact with Professor Harvey.
In a statement, a QUB spokesperson said: “Queen’s categorically condemns any abusive or threatening comments towards any member of the university staff.
“The university strongly supports freedom of thought and expression within the framework of respect for the rights of others. Academic freedom is enshrined as a guiding principle in the university’s charter and statutes.
Amnesty International said Prof Harvey faced years of bullying from elected politicians, media commentators and online activists.
Patrick Corrigan, Amnesty’s Northern Ireland director, said the organization was “deeply concerned about this sustained campaign of hostility against Professor Harvey”.