UPDATE ON 2 SEPTEMBER 2015: United Kingdom grants visa for Ramy Essam after all
The Egyptian singer and Freemuse Award winner Ramy Essam has been refused a visit visa to the United Kingdom. He was supposed to take part in the Festival 800 in Lincoln on Saturday 5 September 2015 as part of the full day event ‘Listen to the banned’.
The refusal states: “I am not satisfied that your circumstances in Sweden (or elsewhere) are such that you have shown that your intentions are as stated that you intend to leave the UK at the end of your proposed visit.”
Freemuse Executive Director, Ole Reitov commented the refusal: “This is a scandal. Ramy Essam has been invited to the USA, Norway, Germany and several other countries during the past year. He has met the Swedish Minister of Culture, the President of the Norwegian Parliament and is currently hosted by Malmö City Council. The refusal argument is complete nonsense and shows bureaucratic arrogance.”
Festival 800 Director David Lambert said: “We are shocked and disappointed that the bureaucracies that have stifled freedom of expression over the centuries seem to have once again succeeded in preventing that expression to be heard. We trust common sense will prevail and Ramy Essam will be able to exercise his right to freedom of speech at Festival 800, a human rights festival.”
Numerous visa refusal cases
The UK Immigration Authorities have over the years been criticised for their lack of understanding of the role of artists. Recent visa refusal cases include Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, who was denied a six month visa a few weeks ago, a decision that was subsequently reversed once the Home Secretary become involved in the case.
The United Kingdom is a state party to the UNESCO Convention on the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions, which in Article 14 calls for state parties in developed countries to facilitate “access to their territory for the cultural activities, goods and services of developing countries… and providing support for creative work and facilitating the mobility, to the extent possible, of artists from the developing world.”
Magna Carta: Voice to marginalised people
Magna Carta is 800 years old, and over the centuries has offered opportunity and a voice to a vast range of marginalised people.
Said David Lambert: “Festival 800 is an artistic and cultural response to Magna Carta, and as the home of only four 1215 editions of the document, Lincoln was delighted when Ramy Essam accepted our offer to come to the city to share his stories.”
Freemuse calls for an urgent reappraisal of the visa application.
Examples of visa denial cases in the United Kingdom
• In January 2015, a sell-out concert in Bristol had to be cancelled after Nigerian musician Orlando Julius was refused a visa by the UK authorities. The saxophonist Orlando Julius and his band The Heliocentrics were due to appear at the Lantern at Colston Hall on Tuesday, January 27. But the Lagos musician, who played on disco track Back to My Roots, was forced to pull out when his visa was refused. The Home Office has not made public the reason why the visa was refused
• In June 2015, The New Collective, based in Tbilisi were due to perform at the Flare Festival in Manchester and were refused artists visas. The British authorities are so concerned that this young collective will want to migrate to the UK that their visa application has been refused. They are young, single, without dependents and have very little in their bank accounts, so cannot prove satisfactorily that they are “genuine” visitors to the UK and would leave following their performances according to the authorities reasoning. www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2015/jun/03/georgian-theatre-company-refused-visa-to-perform-in-britain
• The world-famous Chinese artist Ai Weiwei does not fit this profile. However, he was denied a six month visa, too – a decision which was subsequently reversed once the Home Secretary herself became involved in the case.
• In beginning of 2015, Thaeir Helal from Syria was due to attend a high profile exhibition of his work at Ayyam Gallery in London, however he was refused entry on the grounds that the Home Office “were not entirely satisfied Helal was genuinely seeking entry to the United Kingdom as a business visitor. In addition they were not satisfied that he intend to leave the United Kingdom at the end of his visit.” Helal confirmed he submitted all the required documents and a letter from the university where he is a lecturer for the purpose of his visit.
• In August 2015, the rapper Tyler, The Creator was denied entry to the UK, because of song lyrics he wrote when he was a teenager:
• In April 2014, an American musician was stopped from entering the UK because immigration officials did not know about a special work permit scheme that allows foreign artists and musicians to enter the country for paid engagements.
• The case of Grammy nominated classical organist Cameron Carpenter was raised in the House of Lords by Lord Clancarty and the Home Office investigated the incident. However, Ministers have refused to apologise to Mr Carpenter over the ‘heavy handed’ treatment he received when he was wrongly stopped from entering the UK.
• The organist flew into Birmingham Airport from Berlin two days before a scheduled concert but was held for seven hours overnight, where he was interviewed, finger-printed and put back on a plane to Germany the next morning.
• Gaza-based husband and wife writers, Ali Abukhattab and Samah al-Sheikh, were due to talk about their writing at London’s ICA, but were refused visa: www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/18/palestinian-writers-refused-visas-uk
• Kazakh artist Karipbek Kuyukov, who was born without arms, said he was denied permission to enter Britain because he could not give fingerprints: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-22428923 www.independent.co.uk/news/world/it-shouldnt-have-happened-david-cameron-regrets-the-case-of-artist-from-kazakhstan-refused-uk-visa-because-he-had-no-hands-8681241.html
• Algerian artist Sofiane Belaskri was denied a 4 day visa to attend the Reframe exhibition November 2013. Reframe is a project that invited nine emerging artists from Algeria, Turkey and the UK to use their distinctive styles and viewpoints to explore contemporary attitudes to Europe through a series of graphic short stories.