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Colombian journalist denied visa for Harvard fellowship

July 11, 2010 | 10:39 pm

A prominent and controversial Colombian journalist has been denied a visa to enter the U.S. to participate in a prestigious fellowship at Harvard University. The U.S. Embassy ruled journalist Hollman Morris ineligible to enter the United States under the "Terrorist Activities" section of the USA Patriot Act, reports the Associated Press.

Morris is known for his reports on human rights abuses by right-wing paramilitary groups in Colombia, at the independent news outlet Contravia, but has been accused of allegiance to the FARC guerrilla group by Colombia's president. Morris had been awarded the Nieman Fellowship, a mid-career program at Harvard for experienced reporters from around the world, for his work investigating little-known abuses at the hands of far-right armed groups who fight the FARC in Colombia's isolated rural regions.

Reports in Colombia have tied paramilitaries to relatives of outgoing President Alvaro Uribe, coining a new term for such relationships, "parapolitics." Far-right paramilitary groups in Colombia are believed to be responsible for as many as 20,000 deaths or disappearances, according to some reports.

Uribe, a strong U.S. ally, has singled out Morris for criticism, the AP says: "On Feb. 3, 2009, Uribe called Morris 'an accomplice of terrorism' posing as a journalist after Morris showed up with FARC rebels to cover the insurgents' liberation of four Colombian security force members."

In the video embedded above, via the Center for Investigative Reporting, Morris and his brother Juan Pablo Morris explain their efforts.

"We believe the country needs to know this story," Hollman Morris says in the video. "These documents, these archives, these programs will be the story that nourishes the next generation of Colombians. My children must know this. My children's children. If we want and believe that we shouldn't repeat that tragic history in our country."

The Nieman Fellowship is hoping that the U.S. State Department reverses its decision on Morris' visa. From the Nieman Lab blog:

Obviously, we’re hoping this can be resolved. For decades, the Nieman Fellowships have brought journalists from around the world to Harvard to study and learn from one another in an atmosphere of open exchange. My boss, curator Bob Giles, has written to the State Department asking it to change its decision, and other forces are rallying in his support. I don’t know that we have many readers in Foggy Bottom, but if we do, we sincerely hope this won’t be the first time an American political decision has prevented a foreign journalist from studying with us.

The news site Colombia Reports has more on documents that discuss government surveillance on Morris.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Video: Center for Investigative Reporting

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