A Melbourne man who attended a bikie charity ride over three years ago has been refused an American visa and he suspects the reason is association laws.
John Di Clemente, 47, of Bundurra, fears the visa was rejected on the mistaken belief that he is a bikie associate, although the American embassy has not yet given him a reason for the rejection.
“I’ve never had a criminal record. I’m clean cut and have no visible tattoos. I’m just a dad who owned a Harley and I’m being crucified for it,” he says.
The plumbing business owner says he was offered a free trip to the US by a friend who is a wealthy developer. However, he missed the trip because his application for a tourist visa was rejected.
He visited the embassy for an interview to establish why the visa was rejected, but did not get a clear answer. He now believes it is because of two incidents over the past few years.
The first was when he attended a charity poker run organised by the Black Uhlins in April 2011.
“As we left from outside the clubhouse where they had blocked off the whole street, everyone had their photo taken of their licence number next to their numberplate. The police told us it was to make sure your bike is licensed and roadworthy. That’s what they said and I had no reason not to believe them.”
The second incident happened about two years ago when he and wife, Sue, went for a ride on his Softail Standard with some friends to Williamstown.
“We pulled up and I parked my bike next to some other Harleys. My wife and I walked away and the next thing the police are taking our rego and I was wondering what was going on. They said it was a routine check.”
John says he has had no subsequent contact from the police. However, he now believes these incidents may be behind his visa rejection.
“I had to make an appointment with the embassy for an interview and he asked me questions like have I ever been convicted of anything, or been in trouble with law and I’m answering no to all the questions. I haven’t even been in a police station or spoken to an officer,” John says.
“Then he asks have I ever congregated in a big group. I didn’t know what he meant, so he asked if I’d ever been out with a lot of people at the one time.
“I brought up the poker run and he asked were they a criminal organisation. I said they are a bikie club but I don’t know if they are criminals.
“It was a poker run, a joy ride, a family thing.”
The interviewer told John he would have to investigate further, but John has since received no explanation from the embassy and he has missed his trip.
“They didn’t specifically tell me it was because of these incidents, but it’s the questions they asked me that make me think that’s it,” he says.
Freedom Riders Australia spokesman Dale Maggs says this is an example of social profiling of motorcyclists in the wake of association laws.
“Police and the government are social profiling riders and it’s inherently wrong. It’s as bad as racial discrimination and it should be stopped,” he says.
He invited all riders to join their protest against anti-association laws at Parliament House, Canberra, on December 1. Details of the protest and the concert the night before are available on their Facebook page.
John has engaged a solicitor to investigate the matter further.
“I just want to clear my name,” says John. “I’ve never had an issue with the police. I respect them. It’s not their fault; it’s the system’s fault.”
John says he doesn’t even own a bike now and is worried about association laws such as Queensland’s Vicious Lawless Association Disestablishment (VLAD) laws.
“These new laws have scared me a bit. I sold my bike a couple of years ago to put money into an investment. I was devastated, but I can always buy another bike. I wouldn’t buy any other bike but a Harley. I just love the sound. I love it for the feel and the roar as you take off.
“When you own a Harley you like the atmosphere and sound of a big ride. Now it looks like I’m being crucified because of it.”