/ 9 December 2008

US judge orders review of SA professor’s visa denial

A United States judge on Monday ruled that federal courts may review the case of a Muslim South African scholar denied a visa to enter the US on the unsubstantiated grounds he had engaged in terrorist activities.

While the refusal by consular services to grant a visa is normally not reviewable by the judiciary, Judge George O’Toole ruled the lawsuit challenging the State Department’s visa refusal for Professor Adam Habib could proceed because the government had not given a reason for denial.

”The plaintiff organisations claim that denial of Habib’s visa application infringed their rights under the First Amendment to the US Constitution to have Habib come to US to speak,” O’Toole of the Massachusetts district court said in his decision.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which brought the lawsuit on behalf of organisations that invited Habib to speak, the ”renowned scholar and sought-after political analyst” had lived for several years in the US and never had problems entering the country until 2006.

But in that year his visa was revoked, and the following year an application for a new visa was rejected, with US officials citing a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that makes applicants who ”have engaged in a terrorist activity” ineligible.

O’Toole said ”a valid, substantiated reason” must be given by the government for barring a scholar invited to address US audiences and said the courts could review the case.

”Today’s [Monday] decision is a major victory for judicial review and a significant blow to the administration’s failed attempt at stifling debate by banning a prominent critic of US policy,” said Melissa Goodman, staff attorney with the ACLU National Security Project, who argued the case in court.

”[Habib] is also a Muslim who has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and some US terrorism-related policies,” the US rights organisation said in a statement.

The ACLU filed the suit in 2007 on behalf of organisations that have invited Habib to speak, including the American Sociological Association, the American Association of University Professors, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights.

A similar suit has been filed by the ACLU on behalf of Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, who was prevented from taking up a teaching position at a US university when the US government revoked his visa in 2004. — AFP