US denies visa to German investigative journalist

Gabriele Weber specialises in investigations of Nazi war criminals.

Updated: Apr 13, 2011, 11:51 AM IST

Buenos Aires: A journalists` group in Argentina tried on Tuesday to intercede on behalf of one of its members who was permanently denied a US visa after travelling to Washington to do research at the National Archives.

Argentina`s foreign correspondents` association sent a letter to the embassy on behalf of Gabriele Weber, a German freelancer living in Argentina.

Weber has long reported for German news media, specialising in investigations of Nazi war criminals and human rights violations in South America. She is perhaps best known for her lawsuit that forced Germany`s intelligence service last year to open thousands of files on top Nazi Adolf Eichmann, some of which showed that the US and Germany knew he was hiding in Argentina after World War II.

"The impossibility of entering the United States has caused serious damage" to Weber`s journalistic work, the association complained.

Embassy spokeswoman Shannon Farrell said privacy laws governing migration decisions prevented her from commenting on the visa denial.

Weber, sent back to Buenos Aires after arriving in Washington in August, said she had assumed she was eligible for a visa waiver like any German citizen travelling to the states for business or pleasure. She said she was honest with US officials about her research plans.

Weber claimed she didn`t know foreign journalists are ineligible for waivers or standard short-term visas. Because US law defines journalism as neither business nor pleasure, reporters must get special journalism visas, which require the sponsorship of an established news media organisation.

Press freedom groups including the US Society for Professional Journalists and Reporters Without Borders have challenged what they call selective enforcement of the visa requirement. The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe has accused the US of violating its treaty commitments to ensuring freedom of movement for journalists.

The requirement has been invoked for entirely unpolitical reasons at times: In 2003, a half-dozen French journalists who entered as tourists with plans to cover a video-game conference in California were sent home. Randomly, other reporters who did the same were allowed in.

In 2010, the State Department says it refused about 15 percent of the Germans who, like Weber, tried to enter on a short-term business or tourism visa.

Many journalists in Weber`s situation also manage to get the decisions reversed. The department says that in 2009, 17,173 people applied for foreign journalist visas, of which 1,904 were denied. But of these denials, all but 586 were eventually waived or otherwise overcome.

Back in Argentina, Weber then tried to apply properly for a journalism visa at the US embassy in Buenos Aires, but was denied on January 26. She then appealed, and received a March 18 letter saying she remains "permanently ineligible" because she "misrepresented material facts”.

Weber might change this by persuading a consular officer otherwise, but "because of the seriousness and recentness of the events that led to the refusal, the consular officer did not recommend that you be eligible to apply for a waiver," the letter told her.

Bureau Report