A former jihadist who was scheduled to speak at the Tasmanian festival Dark Mofo will instead join the event via video-conference, after the Australian immigration department failed to approve his visa in time.
Muhammad Manwar Ali is a British national who fought alongside jihadist groups from the early 1980s to the mid-090s, travelling to Afghanistan, Kashmir and Burma to fight while on holidays from his job as an engineer from a British telecom.
He also acted as a recruiter, before rejecting his former comrades and working as an advocate against extremist Islam, founding Muslim education charity Jimas and working as an expert consultant for the UK home office and crown prosecution service.
Ali was scheduled to appear in an on-stage interview with renowned journalist Peter Greste in Hobart on Sunday, followed by a panel to discuss “Sanctioned Killing” alongside a former Tamil Tiger and an elite Australian soldier. The panel is sponsored by Guardian Australia and moderated by reporter Ben Doherty.
The event is part of the Dark and Dangerous Thoughts symposium, which is part of the lead up to Dark Mofo, a yearly winter festival run by the Tasmanian Museum of Old and New Art (Mona).
Instead, festival organisers say, he will be streamed via satellite link from London.
“As a former violent jihadist turned peace activist, Manwar Ali has a unique experience to share,” Laura Kroetsch, director of Dark and Dangerous Thoughts, said.
“We will not give up on bringing Manwar to Australia. We have extended an invitation to Muhammad Manwar Ali to appear at next year’s Dark and Dangerous Thoughts. We will now request the Department of Home Affairs to roll his visa application over to next year.”
Mona said Ali’s visa application was submitted on 30 April — 38 days ago — and that the process of applying for a short visit entertainment visa usually took 21 days weeks.
The department website says that 90% of applications for a short-stay entertainment visa are processed within 21 days but warns that processing times may vary.
Ali’s application may have failed under the requirement that all entrants to Australia pass the character test, which includes being a member of an organisation that engaged in criminal conduct. A person would also fail the character test if the immigration minister “reasonably suspects” that they have been involved in a war crime or “a crime that is of serious international concern”.
A spokeswoman for the department said they did not comment on individual cases but that each case was assessed on its merits, which may impact processing times.
“There are strong provisions under the Act to refuse or cancel a visa where a person is found not to be of good character,” she said.
In 2016, immigration minister Peter Dutton told his department to monitor a visa application by a “neo-masculinist” figure who suggested he might tour in Australia. In 2014, the department cancelled the visa of so-called “pick-up artist” Julien Blanc for promoting violence against women.
Alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos was granted a visa to Australia last year, and was invited to visit parliament, but his tour was met with protests and calls for Dutton to cancel his visa on character grounds.
Tasmanian state president of the Australian Lawyers Alliance, Fabiano Cangelosi, criticised the department for not approving Ali’s visa under normal timeframes, and said it was part of a growing push by the federal government to tighten immigration policy in a way that infringes upon human rights.
“Protecting the basic right to free speech is essential to maintaining the kind of country we all want to live in,” Cangelosi said.
“This Government has asserted the importance of traditional freedoms such as freedom of speech. Unfortunately, we are increasingly seeing laws passed that compromise these fundamental rights.”