Detained journalist with ties to West Linn released

Held against her will in Syria and Iran, Dorothy Parvaz returns to loved ones

Facebook posts like this one from Hector Castro on the 'Free Dorothy Parvaz' page are becoming common: 'I'm truly amazed at your incredible courage.'

The page dedicated to the 39-year-old Canadian journalist started as an online, grassroots campaign to get the word out about Parvaz's disappearance April 29 after she left Doha, Qatar, for Damascus, Syria, to cover a story about the wave of political uprisings against authoritarian regimes occuring throughout the Middle East. Returned to family in Vancouver, Can. after being detained in Syria and later held in Iran, Parvaz returned home last week.

Parvaz's fiance, Todd Barker, was visiting family in West Linn during the ordeal and said he was in contact with government officials in Syria, Canada and Iran to find Parvaz's whereabouts. He had no contact with Parvaz, however, as she feared she would be beaten and tortured.

'We're very happy and lucky that this worked out in three weeks,' Barker said, a 1990 graduate of West Linn High School. 'Other families are not so lucky.'

Barker's father, Gary Barker, of West Linn said last week that finding out Parvaz was OK was 'tremendous relief.'

'At first when my son called me I could't believe it,' he said. 'I felt this huge weight lifted.'

A journalist with the 24-hour current affairs television channel Al Jazeera English in Doha, Parvaz detailed her ordeal on her company's website at - http://english.

According to her account, she spent three days in a 'mini Guantanamo' Syrian detention center after armed men swept her up and took her to 'what seemed like a military compound.'

Parvaz - who held an American passport and an Al Jazeera-sponsored visa -wrote that her satellite phone and commercially available Internet hub may have gotten the Syrian's attention.

'The agents couldn't seem to agree (on) what I was or which was worse: an American spy for Israel, or an Al Jazeera reporter - both were pretty much on a par,' she wrote.

Blindfolded, she was taken to her first of three cells in Syria - with a 25-year-old female cellmate, also picked up by the Mukhabarat, the Syrian intelligence service. Handcuffed and blindfolded, she was forced to a courtyard, pushed up against a wall and forced to listen to interrogations and beatings taking place nearby.

'The words uttered by those beaten (were) only hoarse cries - 'Wallahi! Wahalli!' ('I swear to God! I swear to God!') or simply, 'La! La!' ('No! No!'),' she wrote.

Then, it was off to her second cell where there was smeared blood on the walls before she was interrogated for four hours. Her next cellmate was a terrified teenager also 'plucked from the streets of a Damascus suburb for reasons she couldn't understand,' Parvaz said.

'Most of the ... days were spent listening to the sounds of young men being brutally interrogated - sometimes tied up in stress positions until it sounded like their bones were cracking,' she wrote. She was told that the group of men being beaten were murderers who shot people in Deraa.

In her detailed report, Parvaz wrote that, after three days in Syria, she was given permission to return to Qatar but at the airport was forced on a flight for Tehran, Iran, because Syrian authorities told Iranians that she was a spy - 'a charge that can carry the death penalty in Iran.' After weeks of solitary confinement and interrogations, investigators determined that she was a journalist. She was released May 18 and boarded a flight to Doha.

'Although I have written critically of some of Iran's policies, I was treated with respect, courtesy and care throughout my detention there,' Parvaz wrote.

In an interview last week the The Vancouver Sun, Parvaz said: 'I know that sometimes journalists become the story, but the only reason a journalist ends up in that situation is because there is a bigger story to be told.'

Parvaz joined Al Jazeera English in 2010. Her fiance said she will return to work 'in mid June.'

Parvaz was born in Iran and moved to Vancouver, Canada, as a teenager. She is an American, Canadian and Iranian citizen. Previously, she worked as a columnist at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.