Journalist recounts risks of reporting from Syria

SEATTLE - The level at which seizures of journalists is happening in Syria is said to be unprecedented, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. The organization cites more than 80 cases of journalists grabbed in Syria, a story largely unreported by news organizations in the hope that keeping the abductions out of public view might help in the captives' release.

Tuesday's release of a video showing the beheading of freelance American reporter James Foley by the group calling itself the Islamic State, brought the story to a sickening level for westerners. Some 20 other journalists are still missing in Syria and three others Americans are included in that group, including Steven Sotloff, who militants say they will kill next if U.S. air strikes against Islamic State fighters in Iraq do not end.

"What I went through is nothing compared to what he went through," said Dorothy Parvaz, who was arrested by Syrian authorities as she entered the country to cover what were then growing protests against the Syrian government in 2011.

Parvaz worked for more than nine years as a reporter for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer newspaper. She left the paper and had just been working for Aljazeera a few months when she found herself in serious jeopardy in April of 2011.

Parvaz described where Syrian government agents took her as a "kind of unofficial facility if you will. Kind of one of the secret torture centers where people just disappear. I was very fortunate that they chose not to 'disappear" me there."

After a few days, Parvaz was sent to Iran.

"They put me on a flight screaming at gunpoint, and sent me to Iran with a false dossier of my 'spying' activities," she said.

After 16 days of interrogation, she found not to have been a spy and was freed. Parvaz was actually born in Iran and speaks fluent Farsi as well as Arabic. She says while her language skills helped, her Iranian connection could have been used against her as it has against others. Fortunately it was not.

But her story is also of how things can quickly get worse. She was taken some 19 months before Foley was grabbed by militants in late November of 2012 after Syria had exploded into civil war. Foley was said to be in a car in driving through disputed territory between government forces and rebels, when the car was blocked by four militants. Foley hadn't been seen between that moment and the release of the video.

On Wednesday, Obama administration officials said special operations troops had tried earlier this summer to rescue the American hostages including Foley from Islamic State extremists. The rescue mission was authorized after intelligence agencies believed they had identified the location where the hostages were being held. After a firefight with militants, the hostages were not found.

Parvaz vividly remembers the days spent in that Syrian "prison."

"I saw people being tortured, I saw people being treated horribly, screaming into the night," she said.

She reflects on how governments and militants are abducting and now killing journalists to keep the stories from those war zones from being told.

"This was a human being they did this to," said Parvaz.


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