San Francisco Chronicle
By Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
A prominent Afghan feminist and war critic was granted a visa to enter the United States on Thursday – by the same State Department office that turned her down last week – and belatedly started on a speaking tour that is scheduled to wind up in San Francisco.
The case of Malalai Joya is the latest of several in which the Obama administration, after at first refusing entry, has allowed a visit by a foreigner who has criticized policies of the United States or its allies.
The administration “does not engage in the practice of ideological exclusion,” the State Department’s legal adviser, Harold Koh, said in a letter in December to the American Civil Liberties Union, which backed Joya and others whose visits were challenged. ACLU attorney Jameel Jaffer said the administration has largely kept its promise.
President George W. Bush’s administration “repeatedly used immigration laws as a means of censoring political and academic debate inside the United States,” Jaffer said. “There certainly has been a very positive shift on this set of issues.”
Hollman Morris, a Colombian journalist and critic of his country’s U.S.-backed government, was admitted for an academic program last summer after consular officials initially denied a visa. Omar Barghouti, a Palestinian activist and advocate of an economic boycott of Israel, was granted a visa Friday after a support campaign led by Jewish Voice for Peace in Oakland.
Joya, now 32, was elected to Afghanistan’s parliament in 2005. In a stormy 2006 meeting, she was suspended, assaulted and threatened with death after describing other members as warlords and criminals. She has also denounced the U.S.-led war in her country.
Joya was approved for four previous visits to the United States and last spoke in the Bay Area in October 2009. Preparing for a three-week U.S. tour to promote her book, “A Woman Among Warlords,” she applied for a visa at a U.S. consular office March 16 and was turned down.
The consular officer told her she was ineligible because she was unemployed and “living underground,” implying that she had no means of support and might not return to her homeland, said Joya’s co-author, Derrick O’Keefe, who spoke with her after the incident. When she tried to explain her situation, he said, she was told that “they knew exactly who she was, and she was not getting in.”
Supporters mounted a protest campaign that included letters from the ACLU, groups of writers and academics, and nine members of Congress, and a mass phone-in to the State Department on Wednesday.
On Thursday, consular officials allowed Joya to reapply without the normal waiting period, then questioned her and approved her, said Sonali Kolhatkar, co-director of the Afghan Women’s Mission in Pasadena, which organized her support.
The State Department said Joya’s initial exclusion had nothing to do with her opinions, but did not elaborate. Department spokesman Mark Toner also declined to explain Thursday’s turnabout, saying visa proceedings are confidential.
Joya missed her first two scheduled stops in New York and Washington, D.C., appearing instead by video. She has a talk scheduled at St. John the Evangelist Episcopal Church at 15th Street and Julian Avenue in San Francisco’s Mission District on April 9, followed by an appearance at an anti-war rally in the city the next day.
E-mail Bob Egelko at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article appeared on page C – 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle
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