Delays in granting a former jihadist an entertainment visa for Hobart’s Dark Mofo festival could be seen as an attack on free speech, according to Australian journalist Peter Greste.
Mr Greste, who was imprisoned in Egypt in 2013, is due to interview British scholar Muhammad Manwar Ali as part of the Dark and Dangerous Thoughts event this weekend.
As the keynote speaker, Mr Ali applied for an entertainment visa in April and is scheduled to fly into Hobart on Friday.
Organisers said the Department of Home Affairs told them last week his visa would take “many months” to process.
The event will go ahead as scheduled but with Mr Ali appearing via satellite link.
Mr Greste is unaware of what is behind the delay for Mr Ali who is now a peace activist.
“It’s hard to understand what could’ve delayed this visa unless there are some concerns about his character,” he said.
“Unless Manwar finally does get a last-minute reprieve and a visa, I’m going to be speaking to him over a satellite link to London.”
Mr Greste said it could reflect negatively on the department.
“The department hasn’t said what the problem is and so we just don’t know what’s going on, or what messages it may or may not be trying to send,” he said.
“I think that it’s going to be seen as an attack on free speech.”
Mr Greste said Mr Ali has an important message.
“He’s got a lot to teach us about the psychology of radicalism,” he said.
“He’s got a lot of really interesting things to say and I think sometimes, frankly, some uncomfortable things to say and I think we really need to hear it.”
His view was backed by the Tasmanian president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Fabriano Cangelosi, who said the visa delay put freedom of speech at risk.
“Protecting the basic right to free speech is essential to maintaining the kind of country we all want to live in,” Mr Cangelosi said.
“Strong and robust human rights protections mean we can say what is on our mind without fear, and we can be confident that we can go about our lives without being unjustly detained or restricted from movement.”
Dark and Dangerous Thoughts Director Laura Kroetsch said Mr Ali had never been to Australia before.
“He doesn’t have convictions but he has spoken widely on his role as a jihadist who fought in the Middle East, but really importantly since the year 2000 he has been a peace advocate,” she said.
“My personal concern is that there may be an issue because Manwar Ali is a devout Muslim.”
Dark and Dangerous Thoughts is being held in Hobart at the weekend. (ABC News: Carla Howarth)
Organisers said the application was lodged on April 30 and short visit visas usually took three weeks to process.
Mr Ali’s application included letters of support from the government, law enforcement, university and charities in the United Kingdom and Australia.
In a statement, the Department of Home Affairs said it would not comment on individual cases.
“All non-citizens entering Australia must meet, and continue to meet, the character and security requirements set out in the Migration Act 1958,” the statement said.
“There are strong provisions under the Act to refuse or cancel a visa where a person is found not to be of good character.
Dark Mofo was embroiled in controversy last year over a performance by German artist Hermann Nitsch. (Facebook: Galleria de’Foscherari)
“Each case is assessed by the department on its own merits, which may impact on processing timeframes.”
Dark Mofo has faced controversy before, particularly in 2017 when a performance using the carcass of a recently slaughtered bull created a storm of protest.
The one-off show, 150 Action, directed by 78-year-old Hermann Nitsch, involved performers being stripped naked and doused in blood.
More than 2,500 people registered for the show with only a few hundred staying for the full performance which climaxed with a mock fight over the entrails.