July 13, 2010
Via facsimile: +1 (202) 647-2283
Dear Secretary Clinton:
We are writing to express our deep concern about the U.S. State Department’s denial of a visa that would enable prominent Colombian journalist Hollman Morris to participate in a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. The denial, based on a “terrorist activities” provision of the Patriot Act, is unsupported by any available evidence and may be based on misleading or inaccurate information provided by Colombian authorities.
On June 16, the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá informed Morris that his J1 and B1/B2 visas applications had been denied. Nonimmigrant Visa Unit Chief Scott Renner told Morris he had been found ineligible under section 212(a)(3)(B) of the Patriot Act, which bars those accused of “terrorist activities,” Morris told CPJ. He said U.S. consular officials would not provide a more substantive explanation or any specific evidence for their decision.
Morris, 41, producer of the weekly investigative program “Contravía” for the television network Canal Uno, was selected in May as one of the 12 foreign reporters admitted to the Nieman program for the 2010-11 academic year at Harvard University.
Known for his in-depth coverage of the five-decade civil conflict in Colombia, Morris is a harsh critic of President Alvaro Uribe Vélez. He has been derided by Uribe, high-ranking members of the administration, and President-elect Juan Manuel Santos as an ally of terrorists based on his coverage of the illegal armed actors in the civil conflict, CPJ research shows. These accusations have not been substantiated, CPJ has concluded.
In February 2009, CPJ and Human Rights Watch sent Uribe a joint letter expressing deep concern that unsubstantiated allegations linking Morris to the leftist guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) would endanger the journalist’s life. Colombian officials described Morris as “close to the guerrillas” and an “accomplice of terrorism” after he had traveled to southern Colombia to interview senior FARC leaders as part of a documentary on kidnappings in Colombia. CPJ and Human Rights Watch urged Uribe to publicly retract his comments and to abstain from making unsupported accusations against members of the media.
As documented by CPJ, Morris has also been the target of a systematic campaign by the national intelligence agency to intimidate him and discredit his work. The reporter’s phone has been tapped and his e-mails hacked as part of a wider, unlawful spying scheme carried out by members of the national intelligence agency. After an investigation by the attorney general’s office, several former intelligence officials will stand trial on charges of illegal spying. Morris has also been followed, harassed, and threatened on several occasions, forcing him to flee Colombia multiple times.
CPJ believes the visa denial is a flawed decision that damages U.S. interests in Latin America and increases risks for Morris in Colombia. CPJ is concerned that the State Department was influenced by Colombian officials who have a record of making unsubstantiated accusations against Morris because of his critical reporting on the government. We urge you to take personal charge on this case, review it at the highest level, and ensure that Morris may participate in the Nieman Fellowship with other leading international journalists.