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PEN Letter Protesting Exclusion of Ilija Trojanov from the U.S.

On September 30, 2013, German PEN member Ilija Trojanov, a Bulgarian-German writer, was denied permission to board a flight from Brazil to the United States. PEN American Center fears that he was excluded on ideological grounds, and sent the following letter to the Department of State and Department of Homeland Security.

October 1, 2013

The Honorable John Kerry
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street, NW
Washington, DC 20520
Fax: (202) 647-3344

Acting Secretary Rand Beers
Department of Homeland Security
U.S. Department of Homeland Security
Washington, DC 20528
Fax: (202) 282-8236

Dear Secretary Kerry and Acting Secretary Beers:

We are writing on behalf of the 3,350 professional writers who are members of PEN American Center to express our profound concern over reports that Bulgarian-German writer and PEN member Ilija Trojanov was recently denied entry to the United States.

According to reports, on Monday, September 30, 2013, Mr. Trojanov was checking in for an American Airlines flight from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, to Miami, for a connection to Denver, Colorado, when one of the airline personnel told him that due to “Border Crossing Security” she was required to inform American authorities of his presence at the airport. He was then refused entry on the flight and told he had to fly back to Germany. We understand that he was denied a visa earlier this year, but on a second attempt and with the support of an American university he was finally granted a visa that would have allowed him to attend a conference of the German Studies association in Denver; he has also been invited by the Goethe-Institut to participate in a New Literature from Europe festival in New York in November. Mr. Trojanov was en route to the German Studies conference when he was refused permission to board his flight on Monday and instead returned to Germany.

Ilija Trojanov was born in Bulgaria in 1965 but in 1971 fled the country with his parents via Yugoslavia and Italy, and obtained political asylum in Germany. He is the author of more than 20 books, including Angriff auf die Freiheit (Attack on Freedom), a polemic on surveillance that he co-wrote with Juli Zeh and published in 2009. We understand that in July he penned an open letter, along with Juli Zeh, calling on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to respond to the NSA’s surveillance program. Absent any other explanation, it is hard not to read the refusal to allow Mr. Trojanov into the United States as the most recent example in a long line of cases where writers have been barred from visiting this country because they possess, and express, disfavored political positions and views.

A member of the German PEN Center, Mr. Trojanov is at least the third member of one of our international affiliates who has been barred from entering the United States since September 2001. As you may know, we have protested these and other cases of ideological exclusion and were plaintiffs in alawsuit challenging the exclusion of Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan. We were encouraged when Professor Ramadan was granted a visa waiver in 2010; that same year, State Department Legal Advisor Harold Koh issued a letter pledging that, in assessing whether to grant visas to writers and scholars, 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.” It was our hope that these developments signaled a shift in policy away from ideologically-based exclusions and an end to incidents like the one Mr. Trojanov experienced yesterday.   

Mr. Trojanov is a respected colleague who has done nothing but express his views both in Germany and abroad, a right protected by international law and enshrined and cherished in our own Constitution. Denying him entry to the United States sends the wrong message about our country’s commitment to this core First Amendment value at a time when this administration is working to repair the damage that a number of post-9/11 policies have done to the United States’ standing as an international leader in protecting and promoting fundamental rights.

We therefore respectfully request that your offices conduct thorough reviews of the decision to deny Mr. Trojanov entry to the United States and take action to renew his visa immediately.

Sincerely,
                                     
Peter Godwin
President

Larry Siems
Director, Freedom to Write and International Programs

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