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In reverse, US issues Afghan activist a visa

Malalai Joya plans to speak tonight at Harvard . Malalai Joya plans to speak tonight at Harvard .
By Jenna Duncan
Globe Correspondent / March 25, 2011

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The US State Department said yesterday that it has granted Afghan activist Malalai Joya a visa to come to the United States on a three-week speaking tour, reversing an earlier decision denying her entry to the country and clearing the way for engagements in Massachusetts.

The announcement came after a petition and flurry of letters from supporters, members of Congress, and groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which accused the Obama administration of barring Joya because she has been critical of the war in Afghanistan and the country’s US-backed government. She is now expected to speak tonight at Harvard, joining Noam Chomsky at Memorial Church in Harvard Yard.

“We hope the decision to grant a visa to Ms. Joya is a signal that the Obama administration is committed to facilitating, rather than obstructing, the exchange of ideas across international borders,’’ said Carol Rose, executive director of the ACLU of Massachusetts, in a statement.

Joya’s supporters said she was denied entry a week ago. She was told by a consular officer that she was denied because she was unemployed and “lived underground,’’ said Sonali Kolhatkar, codirector of the Afghan Women’s Mission in Los Angeles, which has organized several US tours for Joya. Kolhatkar said that her situation has been the same for several years and had not prevented her from entering the country previously.

“We are ecstatic and gratified that the government finally did the right thing and allowed Malalai Joya into the country so that Americans could hear what she has to say about the reality of the war, and particularly how Afghan women are faring under the occupation,’’ Kolhatkar said in a statement.

Joya was forced into hiding after assassination attempts because of her political views. At 26, she was the youngest woman elected in the Afghan Parliament.

Jenna Duncan can be reached at jduncan@globe.com.