Japan refused to issue a visa to an internationally acclaimed Mauritanian author who was formerly detained for 14 years without charge by the United States at its Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, sources close to the matter said Sunday.

The Japanese government denied Mohamedou Slahi the visa in January. It was the second time Slahi, who was cleared for release by the United States in October 2016, has been denied entry to Japan after a separate application in 2020 was also rejected.

The 53-year-old author, who penned a memoir during his imprisonment that later became a worldwide bestseller and movie, had planned to visit Japan in March to give a lecture.


Japan's Foreign Ministry said it deemed that Slahi did not meet the requirements for visa issuance but gave no further details on the decision.

Shinichi Ishizuka, a professor emeritus at Ryukoku University and representative director of Criminal Justice Future, which organized the lecture, questioned the decision, saying, "Why won't (Japan) issue a visa when he can visit Britain and France?"

Slahi expressed shock and disappointment at the visa refusal, saying, "I thought Japan was a free, democratic, and peace-loving country."

Mohamedou Slahi (R) is pictured in Utrecht, the Netherlands, in September 2022 as he receives an award from a Dutch peace organization. (Photo courtesy of Mohamedou Slahi)(Kyodo)

In the early 1990s, Slahi received combat training in Afghanistan from the Islamist extremist group al-Qaida, which was reportedly receiving support from the Central Intelligence Agency at the time, but later claimed to have severed ties with the group.

He was detained in Mauritania in November 2001, two months after the Sept. 11 terror attacks in the United States, due to his suspected links with al-Qaida. He was then transferred to Guantanamo in August 2002 through the controversial rendition process.

Slahi confessed to having connections with al-Qaida while being tortured, but a U.S. federal court permitted his release, deeming the confessions to have come under duress.

The U.S. government eventually decided he no longer posed a threat and he was released to Mauritania on Oct. 17, 2016.

During his imprisonment, Slahi wrote a memoir that was published as "Guantanamo Diary" in January 2015 and subsequently translated into more than 20 languages, including Japanese. A movie based on his book, titled "The Mauritanian," was released in 2021.

Based in the Netherlands since 2021, Slahi has received peace awards and participates in human rights advocacy symposiums across Europe.

In 2020 and in the latest attempt to visit Japan, he planned to talk about "how to build peace beyond religion and national position in a world where conflicts continue unabated," he said.

The Japanese government typically denies visas to people with a criminal record who have been imprisoned for one year or more, or if they are deemed to pose a threat to Japan's interests or public welfare.

Ishizuka said that Japan "has likely branded (Slahi) as a terrorist" and is showing deference to the United States.

Although the Guantanamo Bay prison once housed around as many as 780 inmates, the majority were never charged with a crime and later repatriated to their home or a third country.

File photo taken in September 2009 shows detainees at Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba observing prayer time. (Kyodo)

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