If Dr Haneef’s past associations render him ineligible for a visa, what about people associated with him? It would be ridiculous to suggest a taint by proximity to a man not found guilty of anything – except, of course, that Haneef’s own detention stems from links to individuals who haven’t gone to trial, either.

Kevin Andrews’ extraordinary intervention means that the doctor’s friends and family have an indisputable association with a man officially classified as a bad character. Does that make them bad characters, too? If not, why not? If so, what about their friends? And the friends of their friends? How long before we can lock up Kevin Bacon?

That’s the thing about guilt by association: it renders defence almost impossible. As the old Soviet Union knew too well, you can’t support someone charged in such a fashion without associating with them and therefore dragging yourself into the case.

You don’t have to look to Stalinist Russia for a relevant example. In Melbourne, Aruran Vinayagamoorthy and Sivarajah Yathavan currently face charges of belonging to a terrorist organisation, providing support or resources to a terrorist organisation and making funds available to a terrorist organisation. In Sydney, Arumugam Rajeevan was arrested a week or so ago on a similar basis.

The relevant organisation here is the Tamil Tigers.

Now, if we use the Andrews method, most of the Tamil community and several major aid organisations with past associations with the Tigers would be implicated. It’s unavoidable – the Tigers control swathes of Sri Lanka and officially distributed tsunami relief in Tamil areas.

But leave that aside. The Haneef case implies that those associated with Vinayagamoorthy, Yathavan and Rajeevan could themselves be deemed, for immigration purposes, bad characters. Raising funds for their legal defence, publicising the issues involved in their cases, even visiting their families – all of these become, fraught with danger, especially for an immigrant community.

Not coincidentally, today we learn that the government is, as The SMH explains, tightening “character requirements for permanent visa applicants […] and is demanding much more detailed information about political associations and family connections.”

Some brave people will still speak out if they think friends or family have been accused unjustly, even if by so doing they risk losing their visa. But many others won’t. And that, presumably, is the point.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey