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State Department Should Grant Visa to the "Bravest Woman in Afghanistan"

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March 21, 2011

Late last week, the government denied a travel visa to Malalai Joya, an Afghan politician, writer, and human rights activist. Today, the ACLU sent a letter to Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano asking them to reconsider this decision.

The first woman elected to the Afghan parliament and a vocal critic of the Karzai government and of the American-led war effort against the Taliban, Ms. Joya was named one of the “Top 100 Global Thinkers,” by Foreign Policy Magazine and was included in the 2010 list of 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine. As recently as last year, Ms. Joya was in the U.S. speaking to American audiences.

The Obama administration has said it will retire the misguided practice of “ideological exclusion” — denying visas to foreign scholars, writers, artists, and activists whose political beliefs it disfavored — and last year it reversed the exclusions of two scholars, Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib, who had been excluded by the Bush administration.

But the State Department made the wrong decision when it denied Ms. Joya a visa.

Last year, State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh wrote that, in assessing whether to grant a visa, the State Department would “give significant and sympathetic weight to the fact that the primary purpose of the visa applicant’s travel will be to assume a university teaching post, to fulfill speaking engagements, to attend academic conferences, or for similar expressive or educational activities.”

Our letter to the State Department and Department of Homeland Security states, “[t]he factors that Mr. Koh outlined in his letter weigh in favor of granting a waiver to Ms. Joya…. Ms. Joya has an extraordinary story and a great deal to add to the ongoing discussion about the lives of the Afghan people, women in particular, about the current political and social realities in her country, and about the wisdom and success of American diplomatic and military efforts in Afghanistan. Americans should not be denied the chance to meet with her, to hear her speak, and to engage her in debate.”

Join us in urging the government to reconsider its decision; click here to send a letter to Secretaries Clinton and Napolitano!

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