Nabil al-Raee, artistic director of the Freedom Theatre in Jenin, has been denied a visa to participate in a speaking tour of the UK.
According to a statement from the UK Friends of Freedom Theatre, al-Raee was told by a UK official, “I am not satisfied you are genuinely seeking entry as an entertainer or business visitor and will leave the UK at the end of your trip and do not intend to live for extended periods in the United Kingdom…”
His place at the speaking engagements have been taken by Ahmed Tobasi, a fellow member of the Freedom Theatre, who has Norwegian citizenship and can therefore travel in Britain without a visa. Forthcoming events include London, Coventry and York.
According to the statement, Al-Raee had pointed out that his visa was denied “despite the fact that I have travelled extensively around Europe and the US, most recently as a keynote speaker at the Kennedy Center in Washington.”
Rejected “because of who I am”
He suggested that he was being excluded from the UK for political reasons, as “My wife is Portuguese so if I had any wish to live in Europe I would not need a UK visa to do so. I was rejected because of who I am, and this rejection is also part of why we are struggling for our rights and our freedom.”
Jonatan Stanczak, the Freedom Theatre’s managing director, expressed additional concerns, pointing out that Al-Raee’s tour was part of the preparations for a much bigger event — a full-scale theatrical co-production planned for a UK tour in spring 2015.
The Freedom Theatre’s partners in the UK fear that the denial of al-Raee’s visa could be a precedent for future troubles.
Zoe Lafferty, director of the planned co-production, vented her frustration at UK bureaucracy, pointing out that a number of Palestinian artists have been denied British visas in recent years. She condemned the British government for “effectively denying British artists the opportunity to cooperate with artists from other parts of the world.”