September 27, 2007 — Vol. 43, No. 7
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Lawsuit: S. African scholar kept from U.S. over views

Denise Lavoie

A well-known South African scholar and political commentator is being kept out of the United States because he has been a vocal critic of the war in Iraq and the detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the American Civil Liberties Union charged in a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

In the lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court in Boston, the ACLU said the U.S. government’s decision to revoke the visa of Adam Habib, 42, last year has forced him to turn down invitations to speak to various political organizations, violating the First Amendment rights of U.S. citizens who were prevented from hearing his views.

Habib, a Muslim, is currently deputy vice chancellor of Research, Innovation and Advancement at the University of Johannesburg. He lived in the United States from 1993-95, earning a doctorate in political science from the graduate center of City University of New York and had traveled once or twice a year between the United States and his home in South Africa since then.

Habib said he never had any problems visiting the United States until last October when he was held for several hours after he arrived in New York City to attend a series of meetings with organizations such as the World Bank. Habib said he was questioned by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials about his political views and was asked whether he belonged to or supported any terrorist organizations.

“If it is an ideological exclusion, then it is completely outrageous,” he said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press on Tuesday.

“I’m fairly transparent. I’m critical of the American government. I’ve written negative things about their policies, that I thought their approach to the Iraq war was a disaster, but I’m confident that I can’t be linked to things like terrorism. That is not what my politics is about.”

The U.S. Department of State has acknowledged revoking Habib’s visa but declined to say why. Spokeswoman Nicole Thompson said the department does not comment on visa cases for privacy reasons. She said the department also does not comment on pending litigation.

Russ Knocke, a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, said he hadn’t seen the lawsuit and declined to comment.

In the lawsuit, the ACLU said Habib reapplied for a visa in May so he could participate in various events in the United States, including the American Sociological Association’s annual meeting in New York City in August. Habib said shortly before that trip, the state Department told him his visa application would not be processed in time for the meeting.

His application still has not been processed, he said.

The lawsuit seeks an order compelling the government to process Habib’s visa application immediately and an injunction barring the State Department and Department of Homeland Security from excluding Habib on the basis of speech.

“Immigration officials should not be in the business of blocking our borders to people with political views they dislike,” said Sarah Wunsch, staff attorney with the ACLU of Massachusetts.

The lawsuit was filed in Boston because several organizations have invited him to speak here, including the Boston Coalition for Palestinian Rights.

(Associated Press)

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