An Egyptian singer, who won an award from Freemuse – the organisation for freedom of expression for musicians – is the latest artist to be denied a UK visa to appear at a British festival this summer, but his case has seen a speedy turnaround as the authorities changed their minds following pressure from the festival organisers.
Ramy Essam had been due to appear at the Festival 800 in Lincoln, organised as part of the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta celebrations. But he was turned down for a UK visa because immigration authorities did not believe he would leave the UK after the event.
The authorities said: “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.”
David Lambert, director of Festival 800 said that he was “shocked and disappointed” that the singer had been denied entry to the UK for the event, which took place on September 5. He also pointed out that Essam was being denied the opportunity to “exercise his freedom of speech” and appear at an event dedicated to human rights.
Freemuse called the rejection a “scandal” and said the case should be looked at again urgently.
And it was. Freemuse disputed the refusal last Monday (31st August) and by noon Tuesday after additional documentation was provided, the decision was overturned.
Freemuse executive director, Ole Reitov, commented: "This is a very positive development, and a clever decision. Freemuse and Ramy Essam are grateful for all support we got in this case. It also clearly shows how difficult visa procedures continue to be for artists coming from abroad.”
Freemuse said the visa refusal was the latest example of the UK immigration authorities failing to understand the role played by artists. It pointed to the recent rejection of a UK visa application by dissident Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei to attend an exhibition of his work in the UK, which was later overturned by the Home Secretary. The organisation requested a comment from the Home Office but was informed by a press officer that they would not comment on individual cases.