International groups join together, ask U.S. government to lift ban denying visa to Colombian journalist Hollman Morris

In a show of international solidarity, journalism and human rights organizations from throughout the hemisphere are calling on the U.S. government to reverse its ban prohibiting renowned Colombian journalist Hollman Morris from entering the United States to take his place as a Nieman Fellow at Harvard.

The Progressive first broke the story in June that the U.S. embassy in Bogota denied a visa for Morris, whose award-winning television program Contravía (loosely translated as "against traffic," or "the wrong way") has been a harsh critic of Colombia's armed conflict and the government. Contravía's investigative work has revealed links between paramilitary leaders and Colombian officials, resulting in the imprisonment of 30 Congress members, according to a feature story about Morris in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Despite -- or perhaps because of -- his stories and human rights work, Morris has been deemed permanently ineligible for a visa under the "terrorist activities" section of the U.S. Patriot Act, the Associated Press (AP) and the Washington Post reported.

"We were very surprised. This has never happened before," Nieman curator Bob Giles told the AP. "And Hollman has traveled previously in the United States to give speeches and receive awards." For example, Morris participated in the Knight Center's Austin Forum on Journalism in the Americas in September 2009, where he spoke about "The other side of digital technologies: how governments are use technology to spy on journalists and human rights advocates—the case of Colombia."

The Inter American Press Association, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the Dart Society, and Investigative Reporters and Editors are among the journalism organizations that are asking the U.S. government to reverse its decision.

"Anti-terrorism laws are a threat to democracy if they can lead to the perverse and shocking victimisation of genuine human rights defenders like Hollman Morris," said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary.

CPJ warned that denying a visa to Morris, who has been the victim of death threats and a campaign to discredit him, could put his life even further in danger. According to CPJ, Morris has had his phone tapped, been spied on by Colombia's national intelligence agency, and been accused by President Alvaro Uribe of having ties to the guerrilla group Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia (FARC), which is considered by the U.S. and Colombian governments to be a terrorist organization.

The American Civil Liberties Union, the American Association of University Professors, and the PEN American Center have sent a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to lift the ban against Morris.

Earlier this year, Clinton lifted visa exclusions for South African political science professor Adam Habib and Tariq Ramadan, an Islamic studies professor from Switzerland. "The recent news that Mr. Morris has been denied a visa runs counter to this administration's decisions in the Habib and Ramadan cases," the letter to Clinton stated.

Also according to the letter, "No legitimate interest is served by the exclusion of foreign nationals on ideological grounds. Ideological exclusion impoverishes intellectual inquiry and debate in the United States, suggests to the world that our country is more interested in silencing than engaging its critics, and undermines our ability to support dissent in politically repressive nations."

The U.S. groups National Association of Hispanic Journalists and UNITY: Journalists of Color have written letters of support for Morris to the U.S. ambassador in Bogata, asking him to review his decision.

Morris recently was celebrated in Colombia for demonstrating courage in his fight for truth, peace, and democracy, according to the Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP), one of the organizations responsible for the homage.

Note from the editor: This story was originally published by the Knight Center’s blog Journalism in the Americas, the predecessor of LatAm Journalism Review.

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