New York City, March 31, 2011—Two days after PEN joined with the ACLU and the American Association of University Professors to protest the denial of a visa to Malalai Joya, a renowned women’s rights activist and former member of the Afghan Parliament, the U.S. State Department has issued a visa that will allow Ms. Joya to tour the U.S. in conjunction with the publication of her celebrated memoir A Woman Among Warlords.

PEN and its partners wrote to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to protest the visa denial last week, noting that Ms. Joya had visited the U.S. when A Woman Among Warlords was published in hardcover in 2010, and that she had been named to TIME magazine’s “TIME 100” list and Foreign Policy magazine’s “Top 100 Global Thinkers” list that same year. “Ms. Joya has an extraordinary story and a great deal to add to the ongoing discussion about the lives of the Afghan people, women in particular, about the current political and social realities in her country, and about the wisdom and success of American diplomatic and military efforts in Afghanistan,” the group insisted, adding, “Americans should not be denied the chance to meet with her, to hear her speak, and to engage her in debate.”

Disturbed by the post-9/11 resurgence of ideological exclusion, the practice of barring international writers and scholars from visiting the United States based on their political views, PEN and its partners filed a federal lawsuit challenging the practice and have successfully fought a number of such exclusions. Last year, State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh assured the coalition that the Obama administration was committed to the free exchange of information and ideas across borders and that, in assessing whether to grant a visa, the State Department would “give significant and sympathetic weight to the fact that the primary purpose of the visa applicant’s travel will be to assume a university teaching post, to fulfill speaking engagements, to attend academic conferences, or for similar expressive or educational activities.”

“We are gratified that the State Department moved so quickly to reverse this decision and grant Malalai Joya a visa,” said Larry Siems, director of PEN American Center’s Freedom to Write and International Programs. “Almost 10 years into the war in Afghanistan, it is essential that Americans be able to engage directly with one of that country’s sharpest and most critical voices. We welcome her, and wish her well on her book tour.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of PEN International, the world’s oldest human rights organization and the oldest international literary organization. The Freedom to Write Program of PEN American Center works to protect the freedom of the written word wherever it is imperiled. It defends writers and journalists from all over the world who are imprisoned, threatened, persecuted, or attacked in the course of carrying out their profession. For more information on PEN’s work, please visit www.pen.org.

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105, lsiems@pen.org