Her calls for NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan have made 32-year-old Ms Joya a controversial figure outside her country

Glyn Strong, UK Progressive Magazine, March 19, 2011

Malalai Joya at London’s Frontline Club with Sue Turton
Malalai Joya at London’s Frontline Club with Sue Turton in 2008 (Photo by Glyn Strong)

Just nine days after International Women’s Day internationally acclaimed Afghan human rights activist Malalai Joya has been refused entry to the United States – allegedly because she is ‘unemployed and living underground’.

Joya – an author, former member of the Afghan parliament and one of TIME magazine’s ‘100 most influential people in the world in 2010’ – was due to begin a three week book tour to promote an updated version of her memoir ‘A Woman Among Warlords’ on 20th March.

At the age of 27 she was the youngest woman elected to Afghanistan’s parliament in 2005. Because of her harsh criticism of warlords and fundamentalists in Afghanistan, she has been the target of at least five assassination attempts.

Sonali Kolhatkar of the Afghan Women’s Mission (AWM) said “Malalai has never before been denied a visa to the US. She has come to the US several times at our invitation with no problems. AWM is a lead sponsor for this latest tour – we sent her the formal invitation letter for the visa and bought her air tickets to and from the US. Frankly I’m shocked that she would be denied. What are the immigration authorities afraid of? I can only speculate that they are afraid of the effect of her words at a time when the US war in Afghanistan is more unpopular than ever – in fact a majority now favor withdrawal.

“The reason Joya lives underground is because she faces the constant threat of death for having had the courage to speak up for women’s rights – it’s obscene that the U.S. government would deny her entry.”

Kolhatkar, co-author of the book ‘Bleeding Afghanistan’ continued “Malalai’s visa denial also exposes the hypocrisy of the US’s stated desire to liberate Afghan women. What does liberation mean when in reality the government is busy silencing Joya? I hope they do the right thing and allow her into the country for the mere three weeks she was scheduled to be here. Audiences in 13 different US states have worked so hard to organise a national tour so that she can shed light on what’s really happening in Afghanistan.”

Ms Joya has twice visited London – first in 2008 to receive the RAW in WAR annual Anna Politkovskaya Award and again in 2009 to promote her book, published in the UK by Ebury Press. During that visit she met MP Jeremy Corbin and Baroness Warsi who warmly commended her efforts to get justice on behalf of her people, particularly its oppressed women and girls.

Her calls for NATO troops to withdraw from Afghanistan have made 32-year-old Ms Joya a controversial figure outside her country. Internally she has dangerous enemies - but also many supporters .

On 21 May 2007 Joya was indefinitely suspended from parliament after she criticised it for failing to accomplish enough for the Afghan people, saying, “A stable or a zoo is better [than the legislature], at least there you have a donkey that carries a load and a cow that provides milk. This parliament is worse than a stable or a zoo.”

She had no faith in the recent electoral process and declined to stand for re-election. In 2009, at the wedding of a young rape victim to one of her bodyguards, Joya confided that she planned to channel her energies into activism on behalf of her people.

Alexis Gargagliano, at US publisher Scribner said of the visa decision “We had the privilege to publish Ms. Joya, and her earlier 2009 book tour met with wide acclaim. The right of authors to travel and promote their work is central to freedom of expression and the full exchange of ideas.”

‘A woman among warlords’ has been translated into over a dozen languages and widely acclaimed. Ms Joya has toured widely – to Australia, the UK, Canada, Norway, Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, France, and the Netherlands – to promote it and state her case.

Colleagues of Joya report that when she presented herself as scheduled at the U.S. embassy, she was told she was being denied because she was “unemployed” and “lives underground.”

Organisers of the latest US tour argue that the denial of Joya’s visa appears to be a case of what the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ First Amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States.

Events featuring Malalai Joya are planned, from March 20 until April 10, in New York, New Jersey, Washington DC, Maryland, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, Illinois, Minnesota, Oregon, Washington and California. Organizers of her speaking tour are encouraging people to contact the Department of State to ask them to fulfill the promise from the Obama Administration of “promoting the global marketplace of ideas” and grant Joya’s visa immediately.

 Malalai Joya with MP Jeremy Corbin (left) and Derrick O’Keefe outside Portcullis House, London
Malalai Joya with MP Jeremy Corbin (left) and Derrick O’Keefe outside Portcullis House, London (Photo by Glyn Strong)

Glyn Strong is a globally respected journalist whose newspaper career began at The Guardian in the 1970s. Since then she has worked for a wide variety of publications and visited more than 40 countries. She specialises in ethical, gender, aviation, military, travel, human rights, general interest features and veterans issues. In 1994 she left journalism to work for the Armed Forces, spending lengthy periods in hostile environments, running civilian/military news teams in Bosnia and Kuwait and operating in the Falkland Islands, Hungary, Kosovo, Germany, Italy and Holland. She collaborates with broadcasters and distinguished photographers and contributes to national and international publications. Website: http://www.glynstrong.co.uk Blog: http://www.glynstrong.blogspot.com/