The Supreme Court on Thursday asked the Union government whether it could blacklist foreigners associated with Islamic missionary organisation Tablighi Jamaat without giving them notice, the Hindustan Times reported.

A bench headed by Justice AM Khanwilkar was hearing a petition filed by 35 foreigners who were a part of a Tablighi Jamaat event in Delhi’s Nizamuddin in March 2020. Some sections of the media had blamed the congregation for the spread of coronavirus in the early days of the pandemic in India.

On April 2, 2020, the Union Home Ministry had blacklisted 960 foreigners associated with the organisation, banning them from entering India for 10 years. The petitioners were a part of this group. On June 4, 2020, the ministry had similarly blacklisted 2,500 more foreigners for contributing to the spread of coronavirus in India.

The petitioners before the Supreme Court claimed that the government passed the orders without giving them an opportunity to be heard. They contended that this violated their right to life and personal liberty under Article 21 of the Constitution.

During the hearing on Thursday, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that the petitioners came to India on a tourists visa, but engaged in Tablighi Jamaat’s activities, Live Law reported. The organisation’s activities had been banned in India since 2003, he added.

A visa is a privilege that a country grants to a foreigner, Mehta said. “On a matter of principle, the country has a sovereign right to deny anyone the right to enter,” he said, according to the Hindustan Times.

Justice Khanwilkar asked whether a visa could be cancelled unilaterally without giving a notice to the person concerned.

“If they come as a group and you cancel the visa of all those persons who came as a group, that is at least understandable that no individual notice is given, notice is only given to the leader of the group and action is taken,” the judge said, according to Live Law. “But if they came individually at separate points of time and from separate areas also, you need to give opportunity on a case to case basis?”

The court asked Mehta to show a judgement that states that a person can be blacklisted from entering India without notice. The matter will be heard again next week.