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Groups Rally Behind Nieman Fellow Denied Visa

By Xi Yu, Crimson Staff Writer

In defense of the freedom of the press, several journalism and human rights organizations have rallied behind a Colombian journalist who was denied entrance into the United States to attend a program at Harvard.

An acclaimed human rights reporter and producer of an independent television news program, Hollman Morris Rincon is one of the 25 journalists awarded the Nieman Foundation fellowship for the 2010-2011 year. But Morris’ application for a student visa to participate in the Harvard program was denied on “security related grounds.”

A reporter known for his critical coverage of Colombia President Álvaro Uribe Vélez’s administration, Morris developed connections with sources who did not support the outgoing president—a move that could have been interpreted as terrorist activity, according to Nieman Foundation Curator Robert H. Giles.

Following the news that the Department of State denied Morris’ request for a visa, Giles wrote a tersely-worded editorial expressing the far-reaching impacts of the federal government’s decision.

“The denial is alarming,” Giles wrote in the piece. “It would represent a major recasting of press freedom doctrine if journalists, by establishing contacts with so-called terrorist organizations in the process of gathering news, open themselves to accusations of terrorist activities and the possibility of being barred from travel to the United States.”

Nieman Fellows from the class of 1988 have shown their support for Morris by sending e-mails to Juan Manuel Santos, who recently won the presidency of Colombia in a landslide election and had previously served as the finance minister under Uribe. Santos was a 1988 Nieman Fellow and the sub-director of his family-owned newspaper El Tiempo, which has the largest circulation in the country.

“We are asking him if he could be magnanimous and intercede in favor of Hollman Morris with the US government,” wrote 1988 Nieman Fellow Rosental C. Alves in an e-mailed statement.

Alves is a journalism professor at the University of Texas, Austin, where he heads the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. Alves collaborated with 30 members of the journalism faculty on a letter to Deputy Secretary of State James B. Steinberg asking for assistance on the Morris situation.

“We believe that the opportunity to share in our nation’s great tradition of intellectual sharing and debate will benefit Mr. Morris as well as his fellow Nieman class at Harvard,” the letter stated.

“I am still hoping that this terrible mistake is corrected in time for Hollman Morris to move to Cambridge next month,” Alves said. “The State Department has been very quiet about it, but I am sure people there are hearing the surprise and frustration from all of us.”

Other organizations defending Morris include the Canadian Journalists for Free Expansion, a non-profit organization that promotes freedom of expression around the world. In a letter to Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, the letter stated that “no credible evidence tying Morris to terrorism has ever surfaced.”

The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, the Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists are other organizations participating in the fight against the denial of Morris’ entry into the United States.

The Nieman Fellowship Program is a mid-career program for journalists on the domestic and international field. Each year, at least 12 U.S. and 12 international journalists are selected to attend the year-long program at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard.

Morris is the first Nieman Fellow to be denied a visa for entry into the United States, though other Fellows have met challenges to obtaining the student visa in the past.

Darby G. Holladay, spokesperson for the Department of State, responded on Wednesday to The Crimson’s request for comment by citing its privacy policy.

“Persuant to Section 222 of the Immigration and Nationality Act, visa records are confidential, and we are unable to discuss the specific details of Mr. Morris’ case,” Holladay said.

—Staff writer Xi Yu can be reached at xyu@college.harvard.edu.

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