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Yemeni journalist invited to receive free press award denied U.S. visa

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A Yemeni journalist invited to the United States to receive a free press award was denied a visa, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

Afrah Nasser, the founder and editor-in-chief of Sana’a Review, was planning on attending the CPJ’s November 15 ceremony to receive the International Free Press Award, but now may not be able to obtain a visa in time. Nasser is a Swedish and Yemeni dual national and has been rejected by the U.S. embassy in Stockholm twice. She wrote in a piece for The New Arab that she will apply for a visa for a third time, but she is “not optimistic.”

It’s not clear why Nasser’s visa was rejected. She wrote that she was given different reasons each time:

The first time, applying as a Swedish citizen, “you are not authorized to enter the US” was the response that came. My second application was made as a Yemeni citizen. After I made it to the interview with the embassy officer, she told me that I had failed to show my ties to Sweden and that there was no guarantee that I would return to the “foreign country” – that is Sweden – after my visit to the US.

In 2015, then U.S. President Barack Obama signed the Visa Waiver Program Improvement and Terrorist Travel Prevention Act of 2015 into law. The law made it so that nationals of countries in the U.S. visa waiver program — currently 38 countries, most of whom are Western, including Sweden — were no longer eligible for visa-free travel to the United States if they had dual citizenship with Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Sudan, or visited those countries in the last five years. Obama later expanded the list of targeted countries to include Libya, Somalia, and Yemen. Thus, despite being a Swedish citizen, Nasser is not eligible to visit the United States without a visa.

All of these countries were also targeted in at least one version of President Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. Yemeni nationals have been targeted in all three versions. The latest version, which was struck down by the courts last week, banned all Yemeni nationals wishing to travel to the United States as an immigrant or as non-immigrants on business and tourist visas.

Nasser, who is being honored by the CPJ for her reporting on “human rights violations, women’s issues, and press freedom in her home country,” was asked in both her applications for a U.S. visa whether she had visited Yemen in the last five years.

In both applications, I was asked if I had been in Yemen anytime from March 2011 (that’s when the executive order comes into effect). Of course, I had been. The application asked me to justify my visit to Yemen and I told the truth: I had a life in Yemen – family, friends and work.

The monthly average of U.S. visas given to nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen dropped by 44 percent in the 2017 fiscal year, according to an analysis by Politico published in September. Yemen and Syria saw the steepest drops. The drop in issued U.S. visas also went beyond just the countries targeted in the ban. “Non-immigrant visas to people from all Arab nations fell 16 percent and the number issued to people from the world’s nearly 50 majority-Muslim countries fell 8 percent, even as the number issued to people from all nations was virtually unchanged,” Politico noted, before clarifying that it’s unclear whether the drop is due to more applications being rejected or less people wishing to visit the United States to begin with.

The Trump administration has also been notably hostile to the press. Trump has asked the Senate Intelligence Committee to investigate U.S. media, called news stories and organizations he doesn’t agree with “fake news,” and threatened a federal crackdown on the licenses of television networks he doesn’t like. The White House has repeatedly suggested changing libel laws to make it easier to sue journalists. Trump has also lamented the state of the press with authoritarian leaders known for their crackdowns on free speech, including but not limited to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kuwait’s Sheikh Sabah Ahmed al-Sabah, and Polish President Andrzej Duda. He has expressed admiration for other authoritarian world leaders who have cracked down on press, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and Chinese President Xi Jinping. This is not a complete list.

“I will find out by Monday if my third application has been successful,” Nasser wrote. “In the meantime, I want my story to help raise the profile of other Yemeni journalists, working hard to make the world understand the brutal suffering of a nation.”

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