An award-winning journalist from Yemen couldn't show up to accept an award in Los Angeles on Wednesday night, because she was denied a visa to enter the United States under the Trump administration's travel ban.
The International Women's Media Foundation, or IWMF, presented its 2017 Courage in Journalism Awards at NeueHouse in Hollywood, bringing together leading media personalities to celebrate the courage of women in journalism, highlighting the value of press freedom and gender equality. The honorees were selected for demonstrating extraordinary bravery as they risked their lives to uncover the truth.
Willow Bay, the co-host of the event and dean of USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, said al-Yamani really wanted to attend the event, but her visa was denied because of the U.S. travel ban.
"It's hard to imagine a woman award-winning journalist is denied entry to our country because by some estimation she's deemed a threat to our security and safety. That's puzzling and troubling," Bay said.
"Would someone explain to me … exactly what threat does she pose to the borders of the United States of America?" asked Andrea Mitchell, Lifetime Achievement Award winner at the Courage in Journalism ceremony in New York on Oct. 18.
Would someone explain to me … exactly what threat does she pose to the borders of the United States of America?
Al-Yamani, who has covered the civil war in her home country for the past two years, sent in a video to make up for her absence. In a follow-up interview with Annenberg Media on Thursday, she said, "I hope to inspire young journalists and I will do all that I can for that."
On its website, IWMF said that al-Yamani "had been detained, had equipment confiscated and had narrowly missed being shot. She often travels many hours per day in mountainous terrain where there are no services or safe places to rest."
Nataly Keomoungkhoun, a USC graduate student, was devastated when she heard the announcement at the ceremony.
"It was very upsetting. I think a lot of people were upset seeing something like IWMF, which is an international organization, and not be able to have that representation there," she said.
IWMF informed al-Yamani that she had become the Courage in Journalism award winner in May and immediately asked her to start requesting a visa.
"We sent her all the documentation that we always do for all of the journalist that have come over the past 30 years to receive visas," said Elisa Lees Muñoz, the executive director of IWMF, in an interview.
Al-Yamani told Annenberg Media that she received an invitation to do an interview at the U.S. Embassy in Turkey in mid-August, a few days after submitting an official request through the consulate website.
Unfortunately, she was informed that her visa was denied as the consular officer didn't accept the passport and returned it to her.
"The officer handed me a yellow paper told me the passport was returned because they need to take specific administrative measures and they will send an independent special email," al-Yamani said.
"They did not give a convincing reason for the denial," al-Yamani said.
Later, she got the email and filled out a long application, which included all personal information, and submitted it, only to be told that the response time could take up to six weeks.
"Six weeks passed and they have not answered up until now," al-Yamani said, having missed three recognition ceremonies held in New York City, Washington, D.C., and now LA.
"In hindsight," Lees Muñoz said, "It seems like if there was enough public outrage there would've been another review of the application, but I think that's what we would do differently, make it well-known earlier so there might be a change of heart."
"Hadeel is Yemeni and does not hold asylum in a different country and has only a Yemeni passport," she said. "It was the belief of the Committee to Protect Journalists that the decision was not made by the Department of Homeland Security but it was made by the State Department in their view it was because of the travel ban in Yemen."
According to the restrictions of the travel ban issued by the Trump administration last month, citizens of Yemen cannot obtain visas to enter the U.S. even for business or tourist purposes.
"It contradicts the basic human rights and the individual right for movement. It creates a bad reputation for the U.S. and the countries that follow the same policies," al-Yamani said.