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Appeals court reverses decision on exclusion of foreign scholar Tariq Ramadan

(PEN/IFEX) - New York City, July 17, 2009 - PEN American Center today hailed a federal appeals court ruling in its case challenging the exclusion of the Swiss scholar Tariq Ramadan from the United States, and expressed the hope that the Obama administration would now act quickly to issue him a visa and permit him to visit the United States.

A widely recognized and influential scholar of Islam, Ramadan was a frequent visitor and speaker in the United States until 2004, when he learned as he prepared to assume a tenured position at the University of Notre Dame that his visa had been canceled. At the time, government officials cited a provision of the Patriot Act that bars entry to those who "endorse or espouse terrorism" as the reason for the cancellation. PEN American Center, the ACLU, and two other organizations went to court to challenge the visa cancellation, believing that Ramadan, an outspoken critic of U.S. policies in the Middle East, was actually being denied entry to the United States under post-9/11 policies that amounted to ideological exclusion.

During the legal proceedings, the government abandoned its assertion that Ramadan had endorsed terrorism, asserting instead that Ramadan was being denied a visa because he had donated small amounts of money between 1998 and 2002 to French and Swiss organizations that provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians. The government argued that the donations, which Ramadan himself disclosed during his visa interview and which occurred before the Bush Administration listed the charities on a terror watch list, rendered Ramadan inadmissible under "material support" provisions of the Patriot Act and other legislation.

The three-judge panel of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled unanimously that the government was required to give Ramadan the opportunity to show that he did not know, and reasonably should not have known at the time, that the charities had any connection with terrorist organizations.

"We are grateful that the court so emphatically recognized that Professor Ramadan is entitled to one of the most basic elements of justice, the right to speak and provide information establishing that his good-faith charitable donations were just that," said Larry Siems, Freedom to Write and International Program Director at PEN American Center. "We think this decision provides a good opportunity for the government to review its policy of excluding writers and scholars whose political views it disfavors and to issue Tariq Ramadan a long-awaited, and much-deserved, visa to visit the United States."

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, the world's oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. PEN's Campaign for Core Freedoms works to: protect personal privacy; preserve public access to information and a full range of voices from the United States and around the world; and promote policies that reflect a core commitment to human rights. For more information on the campaign, please visit http://www.pen.org/corefreedoms

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