THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Dutch lawyer Serge Weening only wanted to vacation in Miami with his girlfriend. But his work defending terror suspects in the Netherlands apparently resulted in his being denied entry into the United States.
Weening had already booked his trip to Miami and in late February applied, together with his girlfriend, for his ESTA. The Electronic System for Travel Authorization is the system which U.S. Customs and Border Patrol uses to grant entry to anyone entering United States under the visa waiver program.
As Dutch citizens, Weening and his girlfriend qualify for a visa waiver. But while his girlfriend’s ESTA was approved within an hour, Weening’s was rejected three days later.
“I followed the protocol and applied at the consulate,” he said.
During his appointment at the U.S. consulate in Amsterdam in March, Weening was asked what he did for work. When the consulate official asked if he worked on high-profile cases, Weening said he had.
“Once I said the word ‘terrorism,’ they ended the interview,” Weening said.
When asked about Weening’s case, Sherry Keneson-Hall, the counselor for public affairs for the U.S. Embassy in the Hague said, “We never comment on individual visa cases.”
Weening has been practicing law for 15 years and started defending terror suspects in 2012. He currently represents group of men aged 21 to 35 who were arrested this past September on suspicion of plotting a terror attack. The Dutch security service AVID was tipped off about the group, which was found with several weapons when they were arrested at a holiday park in the southern Dutch town of Weert.
“There must be lawyers who will work for these suspects. Everyone has the right to a lawyer in the Netherlands,” Weening said.
During a hearing in January for the case, Weening told the court that it appeared the public prosecutor had provoked the group. “This never would have happened without police action,” he said told the court.
The U.S. denial of Weening’s ESTA has also had an effect on his co-counsel, with two quitting the case. Neither wanted to reveal their names, for fear that their previous involvement in this and other terror-related cases might result in being denied entry into the United States.
“It goes against everything I stand for as a lawyer. But if I continue, it will not only affect my own life, but also that of the people around me. I don’t want that,” one of the lawyers said.
Jeroen Soeteman, the chairman of the Dutch Association of Criminal Law Attorneys, expressed concern about the chilling effect the U.S. actions might have.
“The fact that two Dutch lawyers are now even stopping the defense is a shock to me. Criminal lawyers play an important role in the rule of law. If you remove our role, a trial against a suspect becomes very one-sided,” Soeteman said in a statement.
Weening isn’t the only lawyer who has been denied entry into the United States. André Seebregts, a criminal lawyer in Rotterdam who has also defended terror suspects, was denied ESTA as well.
“It’s crazy to say that it is the U.S., which profiles itself as the ultimate rule of law, that identifies lawyers with their clients. They should really know better,” Seebregts told Dutch broadcaster RTL.
Five Belgian lawyers who work defending terror suspects were also denied ESTAs in September 2018.
For his part, Weening now plans to vacation in Jamaica instead.
“Jamaica was my first choice; it was my girlfriend who wanted to go to Miami,” he said.
Molly Quell reports for Courthouse News from the Netherlands.