US judge holds hearing on ban on Muslim scholar

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NEW YORK, Oct 26 (Reuters) A US judge heard arguments on whether a prominent Swiss Muslim academic had rightfully been refused entry into the United States because he gave money to a Palestinian support group.

The United States has revoked the visa of Tariq Ramadan, an academic at Oxford University in Britain and a vocal critic of the US invasion of Iraq and its support of Israel, several times since 2004.

Washington initially gave no reason for its decision, but later said Ramadan had been barred based on a provision of the USA Patriot Act, before then saying he supported terrorism.

Ramadan said he was told a year ago he had been barred because he gave 1,946 dollars to the Association de Secours Palestinien (ASP) from 1998 to 2002.

Washington banned ASP in 2003, claiming it supports terrorism and had contributed funds to Hamas.

US District Judge Paul Crotty heard arguments from government and civil liberties lawyers during a Manhattan federal court hearing yesterday whether the United States acted properly in denying Ramadan's visa.

''Professor Ramadan has produced a great deal of evidence about why he gave to that organization,'' American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Jameel Jaffer told Crotty, arguing Ramadan did not know ASP gave money to Hamas and that he donated money before the United States had banned it.

US government attorney David Jones said the government had provided a legitimate reason to deny Ramadan a visa and the judge did not have the power to review visa denials.

The ACLU has championed Ramadan's case as an example of how the United States is denying entry to foreign scholars. The ACLU is seeking to overturn as unconstitutional a part of the USA Patriot Act, which was passed in reaction to the September 11 attacks, that bars anyone who endorses terrorism.

The ACLU filed the lawsuit on behalf of Ramadan in 2006 against Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for denying scholars foreign visas.

Ramadan, who regularly condemns terrorism and Islamist violence, has said he gave to ASP because he thought it provided humanitarian assistance in the West Bank and Gaza and believed he has been excluded based on an ideological reasons.

He is the grandson of Hasan al-Banna, once one of the most important Islamist figures of the 20th century. In 1928, al-Banna founded the Muslim brotherhood, which opposed the ascendancy of secular and western ideas in the Middle East.

REUTERS SZ VP0502

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