‘Extreme censorship’ as government revokes activist’s visa

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection has revoked the travel visa of leading Palestinian activist Bassem Tamimi just days after it was granted by the Australian embassy in Jordan.

The stated reason for the cancellation is the possibility that “members of the public will react adversely to Mr Tamimi’s presence” because of “his views of the ongoing political tensions in the Middle East”.

Bassem is a prominent organiser of the protest movement in Nabi Saleh, a village in the occupied West Bank, which has been battling against Israeli settlement building, military incursions and water theft. An outspoken critic of the Israeli occupation, Bassem is an advocate of non-violent protest. Described as a “human rights defender” by Catherine Ashton, former vice president of the European Commission, he was recognised as a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International following his detention by the Israeli military 2012.

Bassem has been invited to a national speaking tour in Australia by a variety of Palestine solidarity groups and Socialist Alternative. He is a keynote speaker at the Marxism 2017 conference, to be held in Melbourne over the Easter weekend 13-17 April. (If the visa cancellation is not overturned, he will speak live via Skype 11:30am on 15 April – see event details here.)

The visa determination came just five days after the government attempted, and failed, to pass through the Senate a bill to remove the words “insult” and “offend” from section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act. In the lead-up to the bill’s presentation, immigration minister Peter Dutton lashed “the politically correct brigade of this country” for allegedly shutting down free speech, and attacked Labor leader Bill Shorten for lacking the backbone “to stare these people down”. He spoke passionately with Radio 2GB-4BC’s Ray Hadley about the need to change the onerous provisions in the Act that stand as mortal wounds to freedom of expression.

Yet it seems that it is Dutton who lacks the ability to stare down anti-free speech lobbyists – or perhaps believes that free speech is a right reserved only for opinions that accord with government foreign policy. In handing down its judgement, the department noted: “Mr Tamimi has been cooperative by providing all relevant information required for his visa application”. Yet, further to the visa revocation, Bassem has been barred from entering Australia for three years.

“The remarkable thing about this”, wrote Crikey’s Charles Richardson, “is that there is no suggestion made that Tamimi himself is a dangerous person or that his views are harmful in themselves – the reason for preventing Australians from hearing him is simply that some might not like them and may disturb the peace in some way as a result. Such a rationale is contemptuous of the value of freedom of speech.”

“The Turnbull government are biased and hypocritical in their treatment of Mr Tamimi”, said Greens NSW Senator Lee Rhiannon . “The cancellation of Mr Tamimi’s visa is an attack on free speech … If Minister Dutton does not reverse his decision it will be seen as act to deliberately stop voices for Palestinian justice to be heard in Australia.”

A number of organisations – such as the Australian Jewish Democratic Society, the Palestine Community Association of Victoria, Australians for Palestine and the Australia Palestine Advocacy Newtwork – have signed a unified statement of support for Bassem, urging the government to reissue his travel visa.

What can you do to help?

Sign the online petition: Reinstate Bassem Tamimi’s visa!

To sign on to the statement of support, contact Vashti Kenway, one of the speaking tour organisers: vashtijane AT gmail.com

Don’t let the political censors win: Come along and listen to Bassem speak via live hook-up, Saturday 15 April, 11:30am at the Victorian College of the Arts.