Denial of US visas on ideological grounds protested

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WASHINGTON: Human rights organizations called on the administration of President Barack Obama Wednesday to end the practice of refusing visas to foreigners based solely on their political ideas.

In an open letter, 76 human rights groups deplored the revival of the ideological exclusion of foreigners over the past eight years under the Patriot Act, which was passed in the immediate aftermath of the 9/11 attacks.

They said visas have been refused to foreign scholars, writers, artists and activists not on the basis of their actions but on the basis of their ideas, political views and associations.

As a result of this practice, dozens of prominent intellectuals were barred from assuming teaching posts at US universities, fulfilling speaking engagements with US audiences and attending academic conferences, the letter said, adding that many of those barred from the US were vocal critics of US foreign policy.

They cited the case of Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss scholar of Islam, who was unable to take a chair at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana after being refused a visa.

Initially, Ramadan was excluded for allegedly having approved of terrorism and later for allegedly providing material support of terrorism, a broad accusation created by the Patriot Act.

A federal appeals court in New York is scheduled to hear arguments March 24 in a challenge brought by the American Civil Liberties Union to Ramadan s denial of a visa.

The letter by the human rights groups was addressed to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

While the government plainly has an interest in excluding foreign nationals who present a threat to national security, no legitimate interest is served by the exclusion of foreign nationals on ideological grounds, the letter said.

To the contrary, ideological exclusion impoverishes academic and political debate inside the United State. It sends a message to the world that our country is more interested in silencing than engaging its critics, it said.

The letter recalled that during the Cold War, Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Italian playwright Dario Fo were barred from entering the United States.

The ACLU has published a report calling for a fundamental review of the security measures contained in the Patriot Act. -AFP

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