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Mos Def arrested in South Africa for 'World Passport.' What's that?

Mos Def was arrested in South Africa for using a 'World Passport,' a document issued by a Washington, D.C., political organization that aims to enact universal human freedom of travel.

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    Musician Mos Def speaks on a panel discussing Google's new music search in Los Angeles, Oct. 28, 2009. The American entertainer has been charged with using a false identity, using an unrecognized travel document and helping his family stay in the country illegally, a Home Affairs official said Wednesday.
    Matt Sayles/AP/File
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The American rapper Mos Def is under arrest in South Africa for trying to use a controversial document, a "World Passport," in lieu of the usual US passport.

He claims to have broken no laws, but the arrest highlights the debate around the World Passport, which mimics a traditional passport in format and is issued by the World Government of World Citizens.

The Washington, D.C.-based organization operates on the premise that nation-states are less relevant to individual freedom than the "fundamental oneness or unity of the human community." Founded in the 1950s by a World War Two bomber, the organization claims authority to issue passports based on the 1948 United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, "Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country."

"If freedom of travel is one of the essential marks of the liberated human being, as stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, then the very acceptance of a national passport is the mark of the slave, serf or subject," according to the website.

By this measure, the act of using a World Passport is a "meaningful symbol" toward the goal of universal freedom of travel, the website claims.

However, the passport carries little weight in South Africa, as the rapper, who now goes by the name Yasiin Bey, has learned.

South African officials said Mr. Bey broke the country's immigration law by using the World Passport, and he must appear in court on March 8 after being released on bail. Bey, who was born Dante Smith, rapped in protest.

"I committed no crime. Why is the state wasting my time?" he rapped in a recording on Kanye West's website. "I'll go away. And when I leave, that's exactly where I'll stay."

During the official investigation, South African officials found that Bey has entered South Africa, where he now lives, 10 times using a US passport. His wife and child overstayed their visitor's visas, however, and since their visas expired in April 2014, they have a Jan. 29 deadline to leave the country.

According to a statement, the World Service Authority, the administrative branch of the World Government of World Citizens, said South Africa is obligated to accept a World Passport as a member of the United Nations.

The organization claims that 150 countries have acknowledged the World Passport by stamping it when a person entered or left the country, although only six have granted it official recognition. South Africa has stamped a World Passport five different times, and a recent update on the website offers photo evidence of South Africa's past acceptance.

In the United States, the Air Transport Association specifically used them in training videos beginning in 1991 as an example of incorrect travel documentation, The Washington Post reported. The organization distributes them to refugees and others who hope the document represents a ticket into a new country. Many learn, just as Bey did, that border officials do not accept the document.

This report contains material from the Associated Press.

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