In Harvard Square, calls to let Afghan activist speak
Backers say US blocks Joya’s visa
|The Afghan activist has spoken out in her country for women’s rights and against warlords. She is critical of US war conduct.|
By Meghan E. Irons and Matt ByrneGlobe Staff | Globe Correspondent / March 24, 2011
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Malalai Joya stood up to warlords in her native Afghanistan, spoke out against the US role in the drawn-out war, and has evaded assassination attempts.
But now, her supporters say, the US State Department has denied the Afghan activist’s request for a visa to visit the United States for a three-week speaking tour. She had been scheduled to speak at Harvard and other US destinations as she promoted her memoir, “A Woman Among Warlords.’’
The rejection has set off a storm of protest across the country, including in Boston, with lawmakers and civil activists sending letters to the State Department and holding rallies calling for a speedy visa approval for Joya.
“She is a truth-teller,’’ said Ralph Lopez, 41, cofounder of the nonprofit Afghanistan Peace Plan, yesterday at a rally in Harvard Square. “That’s why the Obama administration doesn’t want her to come here.’’ Joya has visited the United States annually since 2006, and her supporters said she has been both a strong critic of the Afghanistan war and the country’s US-backed government.
“The denial of her visa seems to have come out of nowhere,’’ Sonali Kolhatkar, the codirector of the Afghan Women’s Mission in Los Angeles, which has organized Joya’s last four US book tours. “We are forced to conclude that it was politically motivated.’’
Kolhatkar said that she spoke with Joya by phone Monday and that Joya explained that a consular officer informed her that her visa was denied because she was unemployed and living underground, two factors that had not changed since Joya began visiting the United States.
A State Department spokeswoman, Nicole Thompson, said yesterday that its consular officers do not reject visa applications because of a person’s political positions.
She declined to speak specifically about Joya’s application, citing a department policy about providing details about individual cases. But she emphasized that it is an applicant’s burden to prove that he or she will not stay beyond the time allotted in the visa.
“Miss Joya is welcomed to apply again,’’ Thompson said. “If she would like a new review of her visa application, if she would like to go through the process again, submit her application; she’s welcomed to reapply.’’
The American Civil Liberties Union has been making a case out of what it sees as a practice by the US government in denying visas to foreign nationals because of their political positions.
Nancy Murray, director of education at the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, said Joya’s visa denial is the latest use of USA Patriot Act legislation passed after Sept. 11 that empowers officials to deny travel for the perceived ideological views of the visitor. She pointed to barred travelers like hip-hop artist M.I.A. and Yusuf Islam, formerly known as Cat Stevens, and a pair of scholars, Tariq Ramadan and Adam Habib, who were each denied entry into the country.
“All types of artists and singers have been excluded,’’ Murray said at the Harvard rally.
Joya, now 32, began speaking out in a country under Taliban rule, where women seldom had a voice. At age 26, she became the youngest woman elected in the Afghan parliament and was known to chastise leaders for allowing warlords in the government.
Her stance made her a target for assassination attempts, forcing Joya into hiding. Time magazine named her among its 100 people who affected the world last year. Joya’s US excursion was to have taken her from New York City and Washington, D.C., to Cambridge and Jamaica Plain, according to the Afghan Women’s Mission.
Her supporters gathered yesterday at the entrance of the Harvard T station, where more than dozen demonstrators formed a loose circle as organizers passed a megaphone between them, shouting cries of support for Joya.
Between chants of “let Joya speak,’’ Lopez said Joya’s case underscores how restrictions on civil liberties are occurring.
Meghan Irons can be reached at email@example.com.
© Copyright 2011 Globe Newspaper Company.