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Farrakhan challenges UK ban

Farrakhan is currently in Zambia at an Organisation of African Unity summit  

By CNN's Sarah Sultoon

LONDON, England -- Lawyers for the controversial religious leader Louis Farrakhan have begun their appeal to overturn a 15-year old ban excluding him from the UK.

Farrakhan's barrister, Nicholas Blake QC, told London's High Court the ban was an "unlawful and disproportionate interference" with the Nation of Islam leader's freedom of expression.

The ban was first imposed in 1986 by the then UK Home Secretary Douglas Hurd, following opposition to Farrakhan's presence in Britain by the Board of Deputies of British Jews who cited his "anti-Semitic and racially divisive views."

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Farrakhan -- whose black separatist movement has attracted controversy for many years -- has made many outspoken remarks about Jews, whites, Catholics, women and homosexuals.

Successive home secretaries have upheld the ban, saying Farrakhan's presence in the UK would be "an unwelcome and significant threat to community relations."

Blake told the court the Chicago-based activist "regretted" the damage his highly charged comments have caused in the past, particularly those referring to Jewish people, said The Associated Press.

"He recognises some of the language associated with him has caused offence and caused him problems...he didn't intend to cause that offence," Blake said.

The Nation of Islam leader once called Judaism a "gutter religion" and described Adolf Hitler as "a wickedly great man."

Blake argued the ban violated British Human Rights laws and undermined the liberty of British people interested in hearing views "of value to the black American and black British community."

The lawyer told the court Farrakhan had "moved on" from inflammatory language and wanted to bring Britain's black communities a message of "self-reliance, dignity and discipline."

Farrakhan, 67, underwent surgery last year for complications caused by treatment of prostate cancer and returned to the public spotlight in February. His lawyers expect a verdict within two days.

A spokesman from the Board of Deputies of British Jews told CNN: "Farrakhan's views are akin to racial incitement, which is something we are strongly opposed to. We hope that the Home Secretary will continue to uphold the ban."

Minister Hilary Muhammad, the Nation's UK representative, told CNN: "We have faith in the British justice system and hope that the injustice of the decision to ban Minister Farrakhan will be overthrown in the High Court."

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