New York City, October 1, 2009—PEN American Center today issued a letter to Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano urging them to review the decision to revoke the visa of German publisher and PEN member Karl-Dietrich Wolff, who was denied entry to the United States on Sunday, September 25. PEN said this most recent act of ideological exclusion “sends the wrong message about our country’s commitment to the First Amendment.”

Karl-Dietrich Wolff, also known as KD, flew to the United States on September 25, 2009 with a multiple-entry U.S. visa issued in 2000 and valid for 10 years, and was pulled out of the passport control line by U.S. officials at John F. Kennedy Airport. At that moment, Wolff was informed that his visa had been revoked at the end of 2003 by the U.S. State Department. With no explanation, he was reportedly questioned for six hours, photographed and fingerprinted, and then was forced to return to Frankfurt on the last outbound flight.

Karl-Dietrich Wolff is well known in Germany for his work as founder of the  publishing house Stroemfeld and as a former student activist, and he has earned an international reputation for his solidarity with civil rights activists in the United States—a reputation that won him a ban from visiting the United States between 1969 and 1987. Since the ban was lifted, Mr. Wolff has visited the U.S. more than three times before his visa was apparently revoked in 2003, including once in December 2001 and in April 2002. He was on his way to the United States this past week at the invitation of Vassar College to speak about the civil rights movement and 20th century Germany, and was also due to speak at Rutgers University on September 29. No reason for the revocation of his visa has been provided.

“What happened to KD Wolff is frankly embarrassing,” said PEN’s Freedom to Write and International Programs Director Larry Siems. “We continue to protest the practice of barring international writers, scholars, and activists from visiting the United States based on their ideas and opinions—a practice the U.S. wisely abandoned in the 1990s, only to resurrect in the wake of 9/11. We urge the government to move quickly to review the cancellation of Mr. Wolff’s visa and to back away from a practice that both hurts our image internationally and violates the right of Americans to freely engage with a full range of ideas.”

PEN American Center is the largest of the 145 centers of International PEN, 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.

Larry Siems, (212) 334-1660 ext. 105