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US denies visa to Colombian human rights journalist

hollmanmorris US denies visa to Colombian human rights journalist

A prominent Colombian journalist, who had been awarded a prestigious fellowship at Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation to study conflict negotiation strategies and international criminal court procedures, has been barred from entering the United States to attend the program.

According to Nieman Foundation curator Bob Giles, Hollman Morris Rincón was told by an official at the US Embassy in Bogota that he has been ruled permanently ineligible for a visa under the “terrorist activities” section of the Patriot Act.

“We were very surprised. This has never happened before,” Giles commented. “And Hollman has traveled previously in the United States to give speeches and receive awards.”

Giles has asked the State Department to reconsider its decision, and the Committee to Protect Journalists has also expressed its concern. “We’re frankly shocked,” CPJ executive director Joel Simon stated. “We feel it’s outrageous.” He said the State Department claimed to have discussed the issue with Morris but “that’s just not true.”

Morris, whose independent TV news program Contravia has been critical of the ties between outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe and illegal far-right militias, has served at times as an intermediary in hostage negotiations with the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). On the basis of those connections, he has been accused by Uribe of being “an accomplice of terrorism” and has been described as “close to the guerrillas” by Colombia’s Minister of Defense — and now president-elect — Juan Manuel Santos.

Uribe has been a close ally for the last eight years of both the Bush and Obama administrations, and the US State Department lists FARC as an international terrorist organization.

Emptywheel at Firedoglake suggests a connection between the denial of a visa to Morris and the recent Supreme Court ruling that “groups trying to teach terrorist organizations to engage peacefully might be judged to be materially supporting terrorists.”

“While I don’t think that’s precisely what is going on here,” she writes, “the logical next step after treating counseling on conflict negotiations as material support for terrorism is to treat reporting on conflict negotiations as material support for terrorism.”

When contacted by the Associated Press, Morris refused to either confirm or deny that he had been refused a visa, but he did refer to a document he had obtained which describes a campaign by the Colombian state security agency, DAS, to discredit him internationally.

According to Colombia Reports, “In April, Morris was given files by the prosecutor general which allegedly belong to the DAS. The files include Morris’ photograph and address, and instructions such as ‘Initiate a smear campaign at the international level, through the following activities … inclusion in FARC video,’ and ‘Request the suspension of visa.'”

Last year, the Center for Investigative Reporting issue a report on the activities of Morris and his brother. It explained that “while the violent tactics of the left-wing guerilla movement, the FARC, have generated considerable press attention … a major component of that violence, by right-wing paramilitary groups, has gone largely unreported. Founded some twenty years ago by landowners to combat the guerillas, the paramilitary groups have transformed into violent criminal enterprises financed through cocaine exports and kidnappings — much like the FARC itself.”

“Contravia has uncovered links between paramilitary leaders and high officials in Colombian politics and finance,” the report continues. “Thirty senators and representatives in the Colombian Congress have been imprisoned because of their ties to the paramilitary death squads; another sixty have been investigated. That’s a third of Colombia’s 268 member Congress, giving rise to a new term—‘para-politica’—to describe the ongoing crisis as one top politician after another is accused of complicity with the para-military squads. Most of those accused represent political parties that are part of the governing coalition led by President Alvaro Uribe.”

This video is from the Center for Investigive Reporting, posted March 26, 2009.

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