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German writer banned entry to U.S. after criticising the country's surveillance powers

PEN American Center has issued a letter to Secretary of State John Kerry and Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Rand Beers urging them to review the decision to deny Bulgarian-German writer and PEN member Ilija Trojanov entry to the United States on Monday, September 30. PEN said this most recent act of ideological exclusion calls to mind our country's checkered history of barring writers whose political views it disfavors, at a time when the need to model tolerance for dissent is stronger than ever.

According to reports, Ilija Trojanov was checking in for an American Airlines flight from Salvador da Bahia, Brazil, to Miami, for a connection to Denver, Colorado, when one of the airline personnel told him that due to “Border Crossing Security” she was required to inform American authorities of his presence at the airport. He was then refused entry on the flight without further explanation and told he had to fly back to Germany. Trojanov was reportedly denied a U.S. visa earlier this year, but on a second attempt and with the support of an American university he was finally granted a visa that would have allowed him to attend a conference of the German Studies association in Denver; he has also been invited by the Goethe Institute to participate in a New Literature from Europe festival in New York in November.

A member of the German PEN Center, Ilija Trojanov was born in Bulgaria in 1965 but in 1971 fled the country with his parents via Yugoslavia and Italy, and obtained political asylum in Germany. He is the author of more than 20 books, including "Angriff auf die Freiheit" ("Attack on Freedom"), a polemic on surveillance that he co-wrote with fellow writer Juli Zeh and published in 2009. In July, he and Zeh penned an open letter calling on German Chancellor Angela Merkel to respond to the NSA's surveillance program.

“Barring Mr. Trojanov, an outspoken critic of America's controversial surveillance powers, from attending an academic conference in the United States will hardly calm the anxiety our colleagues around the world are feeling about America's electronic spying,” said Suzanne Nossel, executive director of PEN American Center. “Rather, it resurrects memories of a time when the United States routinely barred international writers and scholars who criticized or challenged U.S. policies—at precisely the moment when we should be demonstrating a willingness to engage in full and open debate. We urge the government to quickly review Ilija Trojanov's case and to allow him to complete his planned travel to the United States.”

Read the full text of PEN's letter

Case history

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