PEN American Center yesterday issued a letter to Secretary of State Clinton and Secretary of Homeland Security 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 U.S. on September 25. PEN said not allowing Wolff into the country “sends the wrong message about our country’s commitment to the First Amendment.”
Wolff flew to the U.S. last week at the invitation of Vassar College to speak about the civil rights movement and 20th century Germany, and was also scheduled to speak at Rutgers University on September 29. He had 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 JFK Airport. Wolff was told his visa had been revoked at the end of 2003 by the U.S. State Department.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 forced to return to Frankfurt.
Wolff is well-known in Germany for founding the publishing house Stroemfeld, and also because of his past as a student activist. He is recognized internationally for his fellowship with civil rights activists in the U.S., and was banned from visiting the country between 1969 and 1987. Since the ban was lifted, Wolff has visited the U.S. at least three times before his visa was apparently revoked in 2003. No reason for the revocation of his visa has been provided.
Larry Siems, who is director of PEN’s Freedom to Write and International Programs, called the incident “frankly embarrassing.” He said PEN will 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.”