His name is Hollman Morris, a highly acclaimed investigative reporter and TV journalist in Colombia. Among many prestigious awards, Morris received a “Defender of Human Rights” award from Human Rights Watch in 2007.
“A journalist and human rights activist, Morris has dedicated his career to uncovering the truth about atrocities committed on all sides: by right-wing paramilitaries, left-wing guerrillas, and government authorities,” said Human Rights Watch in granting him the award. “Morris has faced serious harassment and death threats for his work. . . . Human Rights Watch honors Morris for his courage and unfaltering dedication to exposing Colombia’s most egregious human rights abuses.”
On October 30, 2007, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns met with Morris and congratulated him personally for winning this award. Burns expressed “great admiration for his valiant work,” the State Department said.
That was then.
Now the State Department won’t deign to let him into the United States.
On June 16, the U.S. embassy in Bogotá denied his visa, Morris reports.
“Visa records are confidential,” says a State Department spokesperson, who refused to comment further on this case.
The Nieman Foundation at Harvard had selected Morris as one of its International Nieman Fellows for the next academic year in Cambridge, Mass.
“Congratulations and a warm welcome to you as a new member of the Nieman family,” Bob Giles, curator of the Nieman Foundation, wrote to Morris on February 10. On May 26, the Foundation issued a press release announcing its fellows. It said that Morris would “study human rights issues, focusing on conflict negotiation strategies, international criminal court procedures and the Rome Statute,” which established that court.
“We were surprised by the decision and are committed to do everything we can to get Hollman here in the fall,” says Giles.
“To decide, as the State Department has, that Morris's message should not be heard by a U.S. audience is outrageous,” says Cecilia Zarate-Laun, one of the founders of the Colombia Support Network. “This is an unwarranted violation of the right to free speech. And it’s a prime example of ideological exclusion by the U.S. Government premised on the sensitivity of a foreign government to valid critical reporting.”
Outgoing Colombian president Álvaro Uribe denounced Morris last year as “an ally of terrorism.” And Morris has publicly accused Colombia’s security agency of spying on him and his entire family.
“I’m very worried about his safety,” says Zarate-Laun.
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