Thu, 15 Nov 2007

A leading US civil liberties group mounted a legal challenge against the US government on Wednesday over its refusal to grant a visa to a leading South African Muslim academic.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the case in Boston challenging the US Departments of State and Homeland Security, who refused scholar Adam Habib a visa accusing him of engaging in terrorist activities. “The government failed to explain the basis for its accusation, let alone provide any evidence to prove it,” the group said in a statement. “The ACLU, in today’s legal complaint, is now demanding that the government substantiate its ban on Habib or grant him a visa.” Melissa Goodman, one of the union’s attorneys accused the US government of stifling political debate and maligning Habib’s reputation “without giving one shred of evidence to support its claims.”

“It appears that Professor Habib is being excluded not because of his actions but because of his political views and associations,” she said.

The legal challenge amends a previous lawsuit filed in September and charges that the government’s refusal to grant a visa to Habib amounts to censorship and breaches the constitutional right to free speech.

Habib is a political scientist who serves as the deputy vice-chancellor of research, innovation and advancement at the University of Johannesburg. He is known to be a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and the US “war on terror,” who has appealed for governments to respect human rights and the rule of law in measures to respond to the threat of terrorism.

The US government revoked his visa in October 2006 without explanation, according to the civil liberties union. “As someone who studies democracies around the world, it is deeply upsetting that the US government refuses to allow me to cross its borders because of my political views,” Habib said in the statement. “While I have criticised US foreign policy as a political commentator, it is utterly absurd that anyone would associate me with terrorism,” said Habib.

The civil liberties union said Habib’s exclusion was part of a larger pattern of foreign scholars, human rights activists, and writers being barred from the United States because of their criticism of US policy.

Last year the union filed a similar suit to challenge the US government’s refusal to grant a visa to Swiss-based Muslim academic Tariq Ramadan. A controversial intellectual, Ramadan is the grandson of Hassan al-Banna, the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist political and social movement founded in Egypt in the 1920s. AFP