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Protesters Rally for Activist Malalai Joya

By Monica M. Dodge

Led by chants of “Let Joya Speak,” a crowd of about 25 protesters attended a rally yesterday in Harvard Square to protest the U.S. government’s decision to deny a travel visa to an Afghani activist.

The activist, Malalai Joya, was supposed to speak Friday alongside Professor Noam Chomsky at an event called “The Case for Withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Ralph Lopez, a protester, said that he came out for the rally because he believes that Joya has an important perspective on the U.S. presence in Afghanistan.

“It’s important that people hear Malalai’s point of view and her opinions about what’s really going on in Afghanistan because the American media doesn’t tell us,” said Lopez.

“She believes that American troops are doing more harm than good and she’s calling for a withdrawal of American troops and that’s not something the Obama administration wants American people to hear.”

Nancy Murray, director of education at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said that the Obama administration has not abandoned the practice of excluding those critical of its actions.

Murray, who attended the rally, said that if public pressure is not able to reverse the visa decision, the ACLU would consider bringing the case to court.

There is precedent for similar cases. The ACLU won court decisions that ultimately granted Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib visas despite initial visa denials.

“In those cases, the courts agreed that excluding these people was a violation of our first amendment right to hear and interact with these people, and the same is now happening again,” said Murray.

However, Murray said that because the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad has not released official documentation about why Joya’s visa was denied, she could not yet definitively call the visa denial an act of ideological exclusion, although organizers of the rally, said that his main goal was to raise awareness in the community both about Joya’s visa denial and about ways that people can voice their opinions and change the decision.

“We wanted to let all of the people interested in the event know not only that she has been denied a visa, but that we can do something about it,” said Petersen-Smith.

He added that those involved in the rally wanted to send a message to the government that its actions to exclude activists like Joya will not go unnoticed.

“People are not going to stand for it,” said Petersen-Smith.

Visa or no visa, Neil Peterman, a member of the International Socialist Organization and student at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, said that Joya will speak at Friday’s event either by telephone or in a video conference.

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

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