Activist Granted Travel Visa

Malalai Joya, an acclaimed Afghani activist, was granted a travel visa yesterday after her application was initially denied, allowing her to start her scheduled three-week U.S. tour, which will begin with a speaking engagement at Harvard.

Joya’s initial visa denial was greeted by a national outcry, with many raising concerns that the decision was driven by Joya’s willingness to speak out against the American presence in Afghanistan.

Tomorrow, Joya will speak alongside MIT Professor Noam Chomsky at an event titled “The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Giacomo Bagarella ’13—co-chair of the Palestine Solidarity Committee, which is co-sponsoring the event—said that as an Afghan woman involved in politics, Joya brings an important perspective to the conversation about her embattled nation.

“We hear about the war in Afghanistan or what the goals for the coalition in Afghanistan are from U.S. media or from representatives of the U.S. army,” said Bagarella. “They give their side of the story, but we never hear the side of the story of the Afghan people.”

Organizations involved in Joya’s national tour have been working all week to raise awareness about her visa denial and have pressured the State Department to reverse the decision. An online petition protesting the visa denial garnered over 3,000 signatures.

Wednesday was declared a national “call-in day,” during which protestors called the offices of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to demand that Joya receive a visa. Additionally, activists held a rally in Harvard Square on Wednesday to protest the State Department’s initial decision.

Sarah A. Macaraeg, the director of publicity at Haymarket Books—which is cosponsoring Joya’s talk at Harvard—said that she first heard from a State Department official this past Tuesday that Joya’s second visa application was being expedited and would more than likely be successful.

Although those organizing her tour have previously posited that Joya’s visa denial may have been politically motivated, Sonali Kolhatkar, a member of the Afghan Women’s Mission, said that when she spoke with a member of the State Department, the individual strongly rejected that opinion.

“I was told that the U.S. never excludes people based on their political views and my response was, ‘Okay. Prove it,’” said Kolhatkar.

Looking at the events of the past week, Nancy Murray, the Director of Education at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said that it is currently unclear whether a single State Department official made a mistake in processing Joya’s request or whether there was an active decision to exclude Joya based on her political views.

Murray added that once Joya arrives, she will be able to explain more fully her interactions with U.S. officials and perhaps shed light on the initial decision.

Regardless of the reason for the initial visa denial, Murray said that it is important for the American people to speak out when they do not agree with the government’s actions.

“We have to continue to be vigilant and when people are not permitted to come and talk to audiences here, we have to apply the pressure and say it is our right to hear these people,” said Murray. “This is how democracies have to work.”

—Staff writer Monica M. Dodge can be reached at mdodge@college.harvard.edu

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