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Detained Cleric to Challenge his Deportation Order in Kenyan Courts

  • William Eagle

A Muslim cleric remains in Nairobi after failed efforts by the government of Kenya to deport him to his home country, Jamaica. The government says he poses a security threat to Kenya. He has been convicted in Britain of preaching violence against non-Muslims.

The government of Kenya sought to have Abdullah el-Faisal flown to the Gambia over the weekend, from where he was to travel on to Jamaica. But he was returned to Nairobi when Nigeria refused to grant him a transit visa.

Activists want el-Faisal released into the custody of the Muslim community until the situation is resolved. His legal team says el-Faisal, who is detained in a Nairobi prison, has committed no crime in Kenya, although he served time in prison in Britain for preaching violence against non-Muslims.

El-Faisal used to preach in the south London neighborhood of Brixton at the same mosque attended by Richard Reid, who tried to blow up a plane in the United States in 2001.

The Kenyan government charges he violated the terms of his tourist visa by preaching while in Kenya.

The chairman of the Muslim Human Rights Forum in Nairobi, al-Amin Kimathi, says el-Faisal has been denied due process and intends to pursue the case to the Kenyan High Court, if necessary.

"The cleric has not been given the benefit of a hearing any valid tribunal or a court of law. There have been allegations bandied about in the media, and when he was arrested he was never charged with any offense; nothing was disclosed about why he was being detained. So far, he has not been accorded the benefit of a reading of the deportation order alleged to have been signed by the minister of immigration for his removal from Kenya," Kimathi said.

The Kenya government says it can detain anyone without explanation for 24 hours.

The government also says that recent legislation gives the immigration minister the authority to deport anyone, a view supported by the vice chair of the Party of National Unity, George Omari Nyamweya.

Nyamweya, a lawyer specializing in constitutional law, says one of the government's mandates is to ensure national security. He says that includes deporting anyone it deems a threat to the state, even if the individual has not committed an act of violence.

"The people who blew up the U.S. embassy [in Nairobi] in 1998 had not previously committed any offense in Kenya. [Recently] there was this person who was on an aircraft bound to [Detroit], he had not committed a previous offense prior to the attempt of blowing up the jet. So [you do not have to] commit an offense first to be barred from a country as a suspected terrorist."

Kimathi says authorities are deporting the cleric because he is on an international terrorist watch list used, among others, by the United States and Britain. Kimathi dismissed the list, saying it lacks U.N. and international legal validation.

Kimathi says the cleric's lawyers will challenge the minister's power to deport el-Faisal.

"The piece of legislation we are talking about is being contested in a court of law. One thing the minister's decision has done is remove the right to appeal his decision. Any ministerial action in Kenya should be subject to judicial review and not stand alone. Whether the minister is empowered by the Immigration Act or not this is something that is reviewable or challengeable in a court of law," Kimathi said.

He says the immigration minister is treating Muslims differently from those of other faiths, a charge the government denies.

"We have it on authority of immigration ministry officials that preachers of any other faiths coming specifically for short-term missions like preaching for a day or two or holding crusades, do not receive work permits but [three-month] tourist visas, like el-Faisal had. And it makes everyone wonder why the double standards, the discriminatory treatment where Muslim clergy [often has] to get work permits for short term visits while the [others do not]," Kimathi said.

Kimathi says the sheik has not been granted visitation rights by legal counsel or by any representative of his family. He says the embassy of Jamaica, his home country, has not contacted him.

Most African airlines do not fly to Jamaica, and several other countries - including the United States, Britain, South Africa, and Tanzania - are refusing to grant el-Faisal a transit visa allowing him to change planes on their soil. Kimathi says a solution may be to fly him to a neutral country, like Switzerland, where he could get a Jamaican airlines plane home.

Kimathi says the international community has an obligation to facilitate his return.

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