Farrakhan wins challenge to ban on UK visit

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The Independent Online

US black political leader Louis Farrakhan today dramatically won his High Court battle against a continuing Government ban preventing him visiting the United Kingdom.

The controversial head of the Nation of Islam has been excluded from Britain since 1986 by successive Home Secretaries.

Today Mr Justice Turner ruled that the ban must be quashed and said he would give his full reasons at a later date.

The Government had argued that it was still entitled to maintain the ban because of fears that Mr Farrakhan's presence could lead to public disorder following apparently anti­Semitic remarks he has made in the past.

But Mr Farrakhan, now aged 67 and battling against cancer, today successfully challenged last November's decision by the then Home Secretary, Jack Straw, to continue his exclusion.

The ruling means that the Government will now have to reconsider its position. But Mr Farrakhan will not be able to enter the UK immediately as the judge placed a "stay" on quashing the ban until he gives his reasons for his decision on October 1.

This will give the Home Secretary time to consider whether to appeal against today's ruling.

Later Hilary Muhammad, UK spokesman for the Nation of Islam, welcomed the judge's ruling, saying: "Now the citizens of UK will have a chance in the near future to see, hear and judge the honourable Minister Louis Farrakhan for themselves.

"As muslims we are grateful that our leader will be able to come and give us much­needed and valued guidance and instructions.

"This is a democratic society that we live in. As black people we should be able to choose whom we listen to and make a judgment ourselves whether that person is speaking in our interests or otherwise."

Mr Muhammad said the Nation of Islam was grateful that Mr Farrakhan "finally has access to Great Britain and the people of the UK".

He thanked the judge "for rendering a decision that we believe is a just decision that is 16 years overdue".

Sadiq Khan, solicitor for the Nation, said: "We hope the Secretary of State will be sensible and decide not to appeal so that not just black people, but ordinary people everywhere, can hear Mr Farrakhan for themselves."

He added: "This is the first time that the Home Secretary has had a substantive decision relating to an exclusion order quashed.

"This is a landmark decision which will set a precedent. It is not merely a procedural irregularity, or a mistake or a technical error."Mr Straw first indicated he was "minded" to continue Mr Farrakhan's 1986 exclusion from the UK in July 1998 ­ just after Nation of Islam members were involved in an incident at the Stephen Lawrence inquiry.

He later personally confirmed that decision, then maintained it in November last year after a further review of the case, saying that Mr Farrakhan had expressed "anti­Semitic and racially divisive views".

Given the tensions in the Middle East, a visit by Mr Farrakhan at the present time would pose "an unwelcome and significant threat to community relations" and a threat to public order.

During the recent High Court hearing in London, Nicholas Blake QC, for the Nation of Islam, described Mr Farrakhan as "an extremely prominent spiritual, religious and social leader and significant spokesperson in the black community in the USA."

He told Mr Justice Turner that Mr Farrakhan's exclusion was "an unlawful and disproportionate interference with his right to communicate freely with his followers and supporters in this country". It was contrary to the Human Rights Act and the common law.

Referring to the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, when disorder occurred after Nation of Islam members left and were not allowed back in, Mr Blake said a member who was later convicted of affray had been expelled from the movement.

Mr Farrakhan, he said, was preaching a new gospel to his mainly black audience of self­reliance, discipline and freedom from many of the perils which had plagued so many of the black communities in the United States.

He had organised the 1995 "Million Man March" in Washington when close on a million people, mostly black Americans but also members of other communities, turned out in support of those values.

It was undoubtedly true that over the years he had made "sensitive remarks" about Blacks and Jews in the US, and US support for the state of Israel, some of which appeared to European ears to be "eccentric" and "certainly in poor taste and offensive".

Those remarks had to be set in the context of the US tradition of "vigorous free speech" and the specific issues of the relationship between black Americans and Jewish Americans, which were frequently and historically unhappy.

But Mr Farrakhan had now "moved on" and the present message he wished to bring to the UK to discuss and debate with both his followers and potential members in the black community concerned "self reliance, dignity and discipline".

But David Pannick QC, for the Home Office, said Mr Straw was fully entitled to reach the conclusion that Mr Farrakhan's previous remarks were racially divisive and his presence in the UK "was not conducive to the public good". The decision was "unimpeachable".

Chairman of the Holocaust Educational Trust, Lord Janner, said: "This is a sad day for all of us in Britain who work for good race relations.

The peer, president of the all­party parliamentary war crimes group, who worked as a Nazi hunter during his National Service from 1946 to 1948, said: "If he does come to Britain, I hope that he will not be here to stir up ill­will.

Home Office minister Beverley Hughes said the Government was "very disappointed" by the ruling and would be considering an appeal.