NEW YORK—The denial of a visa for Kareem Abeed, producer of the Oscar-nominated documentary film Last Men in Aleppo, as a result of President Donald Trump’s travel ban, demonstrates the absurd and unjust consequences of the ban, and particularly highlights its negative impact on the free exchange of ideas and artistic discourse across borders, PEN America said in a statement today.

According to a letter from the U.S. consulate in Istanbul, a copy of which was obtained by Variety on February 20, Abeed’s application for a visa to attend the March 4 ceremony ​was rejected under section 212(f) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The travel ban applies to eight countries, including Syria. 

Last Men in Aleppo tells the story of the White Helmets, a volunteer search-and-rescue organization tasked with rescuing survivors and recovering the deceased bodies of victims of bombing attacks in the Syrian city of Aleppo. 

“We stand in solidarity with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which has voiced its support of Abeed,” said PEN America Journalism and Press Freedom Project Manager Laura Macomber. “In making this film, Kareem Abeed ​and director Feras Fayyad have crafted a historic document of war and personal loss. It’s unjust that Abeed will not be present at this year’s Academy Awards to represent his work and honor the lives of the people represented in his film. Too often we see those who would speak the truth subjected to travel bans by their own authoritarian governments; it is deeply offensive to American democratic values that this time the restriction comes from the U.S.​”

​In 2017, PEN America filed a friend of the court brief along with nearly 30 other arts organizations—including the Sundance Institute, Americans for the Arts, and the Performing Arts Alliance—in the case of International Refugee Assistance Project v. Trump, urging the Supreme Court to strike down the Trump administration’s travel ban. aThe amicus brief represented the arts organizations’ common concern that, in addition to its violation of religious freedom, the ban also represented a violation of First Amendment rights to free speech by restricting the international exchange of intellectual and artistic discourse.  


PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.


Anoosh Gasparian, External Relations Coordinator: [email protected]