Hon. Hillary Rodham Clinton
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20520
July 14, 2010
Dear Secretary Clinton,
I am writing on behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-profit, non-governmental organization that works to promote and protect press freedom and freedom of expression around the world. CJFE is deeply concerned over reports that prominent Colombian journalist Hollman Morris has been denied a visa that would enable him to participate in a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University.
Morris is CJFE's 2006 International Press Freedom Award winner, and has been honoured with over a dozen other international prizes relating to his work as a journalist. Known for his in-depth coverage of the five-decade long civil conflict in Colombia, Morris has even received praise from high-ranking officials in the State Department who have expressed "great admiration for [his] courageous work".
Morris has also travelled repeatedly to the U.S. in recent years both at the invitation of leading human rights and journalists' organisations as well as to meet with government officials at the Pentagon and to testify in Congress. Nevertheless, on June 16, 2010, Morris was informed by a consular official at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá that he had been found permanently ineligible for a visa under the "terrorist activities" section of the USA Patriot Act. The decision to deny Morris a visa is not only inconsistent with the State Department's past treatment of Morris, it is also surprising given the Obama Administration's stated commitment to foster a free exchange of information and ideas between the U.S. and the world.
Since 2005, Morris has been a target of outgoing Colombian President Alviro Uribe, who has accused him publically of being an "ally of terrorism". Such accusations have been rejected by both the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and his counterpart from the OAS, who have called the President's comments both "dangerous and irresponsible". In March 2009, the Colombian Attorney General's office recovered files showing that Morris had also been the target of a campaign by the Colombian Secret Service (DAS) to discredit his work by linking him to FARC guerrillas. According to the documents, strategies pursued against Morris included heavy surveillance, espionage, intimidation, and attempts to persuade the US government to refuse his visa requests.
No credible evidence tying Morris to terrorism has ever surfaced, and investigations carried out by the Colombian Attorney General's office have concluded that the journalist has never engaged in or supported terrorism. CJFE therefore considers the visa denial to be a grave injustice that not only increases risks for Morris in Colombia but could also have a serious chilling effect for other independent journalists and human rights defenders throughout the country. We urge you to reconsider this decision and lift the travel ban so that Morris can join his colleagues at Harvard University in early September.
We thank you for your attention and look forward to your reply.
Arnold Amber, CJFE President