Fairfax papers reported last week that a Malaysian political activist, Haris Ibrahim, has been refused a visa to enter Australia. He had been invited to speak at a number of public events, but the visa refusal means he cannot enter the country.
It’s not clear from the reports exactly on what grounds his visa has been refused but, back in Malaysia, Haris has been charged with sedition for urging protests over the election held in May this year. This report suggests there may be a concern Australia and Malaysia lack an extradition treaty. It may also be a diplomatic decision not to offend the Malaysian government.
So we can only speak in generalities. At his blog Haris says he won’t be talking about the visa application for now.
One thing is certain – the immigration visa system ought not be used as a mechanism to restrain free expression. To prevent a speaker entering the country is to violate the rights of those Australians who would hear them. The spectacle in October last year of Geert Wilders’ off-again, on-again visa application was embarrassing (see here, here and here).
There are, certainly, many reasons a government can justly prevent an individual from entering the country: national security, health concerns, prior visa breaches and so forth. (See the Immigration Department’s factsheet here.)
But if Haris has been prevented from entering Australia simply because he is accused of a political speech crime, the Australian government isn’t just breaching his human rights, but ours as well.