Maad al-Zekri is Yemen’s first journalist to win a Pulitzer Prize, but he wasn’t able to receive it because he was denied entry into the US. The award ceremony, which was being held in New York City, was awarding Maad al-Zekri and his colleagues Maggie Michael and Nariman El-Mofty the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting.
The team of Associated Press journalists has written about 14 stories from Yemen covering a wide range of issues, such as the U.S. drone strikes on Yemen and the UAE secret prisons in Yemen.
al-Zekri tried to go to a U.S. embassy in Yemen to apply for a visa, but they were all shut down.
“I had to travel to the closest country to Yemen and apply for the visa in a U.S. embassy. So, two months ago, I visited Egypt and applied for the visa,” al-Zekri states, “My application was supported by so many letters from high-ranked institutions in the U.S.; like the State Department and the Congress. And yet, my application was rejected.”
The reason that his application was denied, according to the embassy, was because Yemen is ranked as a place that has terrorism.
“It was baffling to me. As a Yemeni citizen, I know how we Yemenis are the first victims of terrorism. Terrorists in Yemen are foreigners who come from outside. They exploit the deteriorating security situation in Yemen and use that for their own interests.”
AP exerted the fullest pressure on the embassy and they planned for al-Zekri to apply again. This time, it was required that he met with an American Counselor to discuss the situation in Yemen and how he was involved.
“I explained that Yemen wasn’t a terrorist country and I asked, “Does the U.S. embassy think that a Yemeni investigative journalist doing reporting for AP is a terrorist? Are you saying that I am a terrorist?”
Al-Zekri was told by the American Counselor that they would go over his application and that he should expect his visa anytime-even one day before the award ceremony. He never heard from them.
On the night of the ceremony, he was still in Yemen while his colleagues Michael and El-Mofty were accepting their award in New York City. They surprised him with a video-call as they were on stage receiving the award.
“Somehow, seeing Michael and El-Mofty and the audience’s standing ovation made me feel like I was there with them” al-Zekri says of the surprise.
Now he has been receiving messages from relatives, friends, and journalists from around the world about his experience trying to get a visa.
“Not being able to travel to the U.S. and receive the award in person was disappointing to me but it also made me realize all this solidarity I have as a Yemeni journalist and citizen. I do journalism not expecting to get awards, rather to shed light on this impoverished land, my country, Yemen. The love and support I’ve been receiving gives me more energy to keep up my work.”
When asked about how his experience has made him feel about the U.S. immigration policies and the relationship between the United States and Yemen, he states, “My message to the U.S. administration is that it has to rethink its policies against Yemen and Yemenis. One of the key reasons why this land is so impoverished in the tragic condition it has reached to today is the U.S. administration’s mass punishment on Yemen. They must rethink that. The rift has been immense.”