RSF reminds US that Karl Penhaul is a journalist, not a terrorist

The United States placed a well-known British journalist on the “No-Fly List” and still refuses to let him travel to the country. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the US government to immediately resolve Karl Penhaul’s situation, which has had extremely grave consequences on freedom of the press.

Karl Penhaul is a well-known and respected British journalist who was placed on the No-Fly List on or before January 2014 as a result of U.S. authorities' misplaced suspicions generated by his work as a reporter and news contacts in Colombia. The No-Fly List was created after the attacks of September 11, 2001 by the U.S government to identify and include people who are prohibited from boarding a commercial aircraft for travel in or out of the United States.

Penhaul applied for redress at the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and, earlier this year, DHS notified him that it had made corrections to its records, presumably a reference to his removal from the No-Fly List. Nonetheless, Penhaul is still unable to travel to the US as the Department of State has failed to review his new visa application for months since the DHS correction.

“RSF calls on the Department of State to put an end immediately to this absurd situation. Karl’s placement on the No-Fly List and now his inability to obtain a visa prevents him from freely practicing his profession within the United States, the country of the First Amendment. This sends a very concerning signal to all American and foreign journalists covering sensitive issues of high-public interest for the American public. Karl’s case sets a worrying precedent for press freedom and highlights the need for the US Administration to carefully review journalists’ profiles before placing them on the US No-Fly List”, says Delphine Halgand, US Director of Reporters Without Borders.

Penhaul lived and worked in Colombia from September 1996 until mid-2014 and cultivated contacts with many local sources including within the FARC. Covering the FARC is of high-public interest for the international community and the American public. Penhaul has worked for various media outlets and news agencies such as Reuters, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Boston Globe, U.S. News and World Report, and especially CNN and Univision. He received and was part of the CNN team who received the most prestigious journalistic awards, such as the Peabody Award in 2006, the Edward R. Murrow Award in 2007, the CINE Golden Eagle Award in 2010, the Prix Bayeux des Correspondants de Guerre in 2010 and an Emmy Award in 2006. Karl’s journalistic work in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza, Egypt and in Latin America contributed directly to inform the American public.

“It has been deeply unnerving on a personal level and extremely damaging on a professional level to have been effectively labeled a terrorist by the U.S. administration because of my work as a journalist, Karl told RSF. There was clear public interest in informing U.S. taxpayers about how their money is being spent fighting counterinsurgency and narco-trafficking in Colombia. It is the responsibility of a free press to shed fresh light on issues by reporting from all angles.”

Penhaul is not the first foreign journalist who has been prohibited from traveling to the US because of his reporting on sensitive topics. Manuel Martorell, a well-known Spanish journalist, former editor in chief of the prominent daily newspaper El Mundo and historian who specializes in covering Kurdish issues, was refused a tourist visa for a trip to the United States with his family in May 2015. When he applied for a visa, he was asked to fill out a questionnaire about his personal and professional history. Three months later, he received a letter from the US Department of State informing him that his visa application had been denied because he was alleged to have participated in “terrorist activities”. RSF reiterates its call on the US government to act quickly to rectify the visa status of Manuel Martorell.

Despite various exchanges over several months between RSF and the US Department of State, both of Penhaul and Martorell’s visa situations remain unresolved.

The United States ranks 41 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski / AFP

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Updated on 01.09.2016