One of Colombia’s foremost journalists, Hollman Morris, has been denied a visa by the U.S. State Department to pursue a year as a Nieman fellow at Harvard University.
The visa denial comes after several years of highly critical reporting on the ties of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s administration to right-wing paramilitary squads. He and his brother, Juan Pablo, a producer, created a television show, Contravia, which airs on Bogota’s independent television channel. CIR interviewed them last year by Skype from their studio in Bogota about their reporting, in which over the course of several years they revealed the largely untold story of massacres and human rights abuses by the paramilitaries. Partly as a result of Morris’ reporting, one-third of the members of Colombia’s Congress has been under investigation for having financial ties to the paramilitary units.
In February, Morris discovered he was under surveillance by Colombia’s intelligence service, the DAS—a revelation that spurred an independent prosecutor’s ongoing investigation. The unearthed DAS documents have been collected and published by the Center for International Policy. At least a dozen DAS agents are now awaiting trial for the illegal surveillance, according to the Associated Press.
In March last year, attorneys with the Committee for a Free Press in Colombia publicly complained to the Inter American Press Association of the Organization of American States about the government’s harassment of Morris and other journalists. The OAS followed with a statement highly critical of the government’s threats against Morris and other journalists.
Morris has been widely recognized for his work—including by the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas. CIR helped him obtain an invitation to the Global Investigative Journalism Network conference in Geneva last April, but he was prevented from traveling to Switzerland at that time due to the eruption of the Icelandic volcano.
The outgoing Uribe administration has accused Morris of being part of the “intellectual bloc” of the left-wing FARC guerrillas, who have been on the other side of the Colombian civil war for much of the past two decades. President George W. Bush placed the FARC on the U.S. terrorist list, which empowers the government to deny those on the list travel to the United States as well as other privileges. The Uribe administration’s charges against Morris are based on having found email correspondence between Morris and a FARC commander suggesting that Morris played an intermediary role in trying to negotiate the release of former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Bettencourt. The government also accuses him of being inexplicably present at a FARC redoubt where the guerrillas turned four hostages over to the Colombian military. Morris denies all the charges. He told CIR that he was present at the hostage release on a journalistic assignment for the Latin American History Channel.
Just over a week after Morris was informed of the visa denial, he was honored at the Universidead Javieriena, one of Colombia’s leading universities for his journalistic courage in the face of death threats and government harassment.
Watch the CIR interview with the Morris brothers: