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July 27, 2010, 11:51 a.m.

Reversed: Colombian journalist Hollman Morris is free to come to Harvard as a Nieman Fellow

I’m very pleased to provide an update on the case of Hollman Morris, which I’ve written about here and here. Hollman is the noted Colombian journalist who was awarded a Nieman Fellowship to come study here at Harvard — only to have his request for a student visa rejected by the United States government. An American official told Hollman he was being rejected under the terrorist activities section of the Patriot Act; Hollman has done much courageous reporting on ties between right-wing militias and the Colombian government, which has opened him up to criticism from those he reports on.

I’m happy to say that the U.S. State Department has reversed its decision and decided to allow Hollman into the country. He’ll arrive here in Cambridge within the next few weeks and will be able to study at Harvard as we’d originally hoped.

Lots and lots of people worked hard to try to get us to this point — in the human rights world, where Hollman has been held up for years as a model reporter; in the journalism world, which can be counted on to rally around a case like his; and in the community of past Nieman Fellows who wanted to see Hollman join their number. We’re very grateful to all who got involved and argued a journalist shouldn’t be kept out of this country based on who his reporting angers. We’re also grateful for those within the State Department who recognized the need to reverse their decision.

One of the traditional highlights of the Nieman experience is the weekly “sounding.” That’s what we do every Monday night during the year: One by one, the Nieman Fellows each prepare a meal for their Nieman colleagues and spend an hour or so telling the story of their career and life in journalism. I suspect Hollman’s going to have some good stories to tell.

Here’s the press release we just put out:

United States reverses decision and grants visa to Colombian journalist

Hollman Morris to join Nieman class of 2011

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – The U.S. State Department has reversed its decision to deny a visa to leading Colombian journalist Hollman Morris. He is now free to travel to the United States, where he will begin a yearlong fellowship at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

Reacting to the news, Nieman Foundation Curator Bob Giles said “We’re very pleased that the situation has been resolved this way. Many concerned individuals worked together to support Hollman during the past month and we’re looking forward to having him join us at Harvard. His valuable expertise and insights will be a welcome addition to our new class of Nieman Fellows.”

Last month a U.S. consular official in Bogota told Morris that he was being denied a visa under the terrorist activities section of the Patriot Act. That decision was widely condemned by individuals and groups including the Committee to Protect Journalists, Human Rights Watch, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma and others, many of whom lobbied on behalf of Morris.

An independent television journalist, Morris has reported extensively on his country’s civil war and resulting human rights abuses. His television show “Contravía” has been critical of alleged ties between the administration of outgoing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Colombia’s right-wing paramilitary groups and the Colombian armed forces. Uribe once called Morris “an accomplice to terrorism” for building contacts with the country’s FARC rebels in the course of his reporting. The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Colombia’s largest rebel group, is on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations.

Many journalists and human rights activists view efforts to link Morris with FARC as the Colombian government’s way to discredit his work. Last year, reports surfaced showing that Morris was one of many high profile critics of the government who were subjected to illegal wiretapping and surveillance by Colombia’s intelligence agency.

Morris has traveled to the United States a number of times in the past, has met with high-ranking U.S. officials to discuss Colombia’s human rights issues and in 2007 won the Human Rights Defender Award, presented annually by Human Rights Watch.

Established in 1938, the Nieman Foundation administers the oldest midcareer fellowship program for journalists in the world. Working journalists of accomplishment and promise are selected to come to Harvard for a year of study, seminars and special events. More than 1,300 journalists from 90 countries have received Nieman Fellowships.

In addition to administering the Nieman Fellowship program, the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard publishes the quarterly magazine Nieman Reports, the nation’s oldest magazine devoted to a critical examination of the practice of journalism, and is home to the Nieman Journalism Lab, which identifies emerging business models and best practices in journalism in the digital media age. Additionally, the foundation produces Nieman Storyboard, a website that showcases exceptional narrative journalism, and the Nieman Watchdog Project, a website that encourages journalists to monitor and hold accountable all those who exert power in public life.

POSTED     July 27, 2010, 11:51 a.m.
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