Rapper Yasiin Bey — formally known as Mos Def — was arrested at an airport in Cape Town in January on suspicion of using an unrecognized world passport, and charged with violating immigration laws, as well as for illegally helping his family to stay in South Africa. Yasiin had to remain in the country and face trial while his wife, mother, and four children were ordered to leave immediately. The case was set to go to court on March 8, but has been postponed for a second time after Bey’s attorneys asked for more time during a March 24 hearing, in order to gather further information from the prosecutors.
The Department of Home Affairs said the artist, actor, and activist, whose real name is Dante Terrell Smith, had entered the country with a legitimate U.S. passport and had a visitor’s visa valid for at least three months. But he tried to leave using a “World Government of World Citizens” passport, which is not recognized by the country.
Mos Def had reportedly recruited Kanye West to help defend him, and posted a 10-minute freestyle and message on West’s website, which also included his announcement of retirement from show business. The freestyle, dubbed “No More Parties in SA,” a take on West’s “No More Parties In LA,” sees Bey spitting the lyric, “I have committed no crime, the state must be out of their mind” — among other claims of his innocence.
In the message posted on Kanye’s site, Yasiin explained his position.
“At this present time I am currently in Cape Town, South Africa, and I’m being prevented from leaving unjustly, unlawfully, without any logical reason. They saying that they want to deport my family and they’re making false claims against me saying that my travel document that I was travelling with is fictitious, it’s not. Anyone can do their research about the world passport, it’s not a fictitious document, it’s not meant to deceive or to rob unlawful innocents from any nation state. In fact, the world passport has been accepted here on numerous occasions. I just wanna go home. I don’t live in America and I have a right to domicile wherever I please without fear or interference.”
— Pitchfork (@pitchfork) March 24, 2016
Bey’s growth from musician to political activist has not been without controversy and criticism. In 2000, Yasiin paired with Talib Kweli to launch the Hip Hop for Respect project, aimed to speak out against police brutality. In 2012, he sat down with GQ to explain why he decided to switch his name and how it stemmed from materialistic pressures.
“I began to fear that Mos Def was being treated as a product, not a person, so I’ve been going by Yasiin since ’99,” he said. “At first it was just for friends and family, but now I’m declaring it openly.”
So, what exactly is this curious world passport?
Per the Daily Mail, the “World Passport was first issued by peace activist Garry Davis in 1954” after he renounced his U.S. citizenship following World War II. He died in 2013. The U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that anyone with a world passport is free to enter or leave a country
World passports are rejected by most countries but many people have been allowed through customs with them. The World Service Authority (WSA), which issues the documents, claims that some African nations accept the world passport. A three-year world passport costs $55, while a five-year one costs $75 and 10-years is $100. However, the passport is also issued to refugees and stateless people for free. Edward Snowden and Julian Assange have both been issued world passports by the WSA.
Bey’s first court postponement came earlier this month, and Pitchfork reports that his legal team describes the case as “complicated but simple at the same time,” as it involves U.S. authorities and officials from other countries too. During the March 8 hearing, Mos Def was turned away in court after refusing to remove a turban on his head. TMZ reported that he returned with a loose scarf partially covering his head. Check out the short clip above about the incident.
Yasiin Bey’s new hearing date is set for May 12. He is currently out on bail for 5,000 rands (£227 approximately).
[Images courtesy Schalk van Zuydam/AP]