A 20-year-old student from Roskilde University with an Arabic background has been denied entry to a debate on Thursday about the importance of free speech, despite having purchased a ticket.
The debate was organised by free press advocates Trykkefrihedsselskabet, which is chaired by historian and journalist Lars Hedegaard, who was the target of a recent failed assassination attempt.
While the perpetrator has yet to be apprehended, it is widely believed that Hedegaard’s vocal criticism of Islam may have been a motivation.
The student, Jihad Taha, says his middle-eastern background and the fact that his first name is also used to refer to ‘holy war’ in Arabic may be the reason he received an email yesterday informing him he wouldn’t be granted entry to the parliament building, Christiansborg, where the meeting is being held.
“I’m afraid to inform you that for security reasons we have chosen to reject your participation in the meeting on Thursday,” Torben Mark Pedersen, a Trykkefrihedsselskabet board member wrote in an email to Taha. “Your name will not appear on the guest list and you will not be granted entry to Christiansborg. If you send me your bank details we will refund your money.”
Taha, who volunteers for a range of charity and human rights organisations such as the Danish Youth Council told Politiken newspaper that he found the decision by Trykkefrihedsselskabet to be “strongly discriminatory”.
“I have a spotless criminal record, I study at university and I volunteer for [the children’s charity] Red Barnet Ungdom and [the home guard] Hjemmeværnet,” Taha told Politiken newspaper. “I hate to say it but I can’t imagine anything other than my Arabic name being used as justification for Trykkefrihedsselskabet’s decision.”
In a reply to the newspaper, Trykkefrihedsselskabet wrote that it was entitled to choose who could attend the event.
“We are a private association and our event is also private, meaning that we can choose who can and cannot participate,” spokesperson Torben Mark Pedersen wrote in a comment to Politiken. “Our events are normally open to the public but we evaluate each case individually, and that occassionally leads to some being excluded in order to let others participate. That is what has happened in this case and I will make no further comment.”
Pedersen would not divulge which security reasons were used to justify Taha’s exclusion, but domestic intelligence agency PET informed Politiken that it had not been consulted.
According to metroXpress newspaper, Taha was born in Denmark to a Palestinian father and Egyptian mother. He explained that he found his exclusion hypocritical.
“I think it is really bad especially given that I am being excluded from a debate about free speech,” Taha told metroXpress. “I disagree with Hedegaard’s views but I still think he has the right to have them. Dialogue is the only way forward.”