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Originally published May 18, 2011 at 10:42 AM | Page modified May 19, 2011 at 12:09 PM

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Freed reporter recounts hearing beatings in Syria jail

From the confines of a tiny cell in Syria, Dorothy Parvaz could hear the hoarse cries of young men being savagely beaten nearby, she says in a piece for her employer Al-Jazeera English.

Seattle Times staff reporter

Information

Dorothy Parvaz's interview with Al-Jazeera and the piece she wrote about her captivity: seati.ms/mGNqaO

quotes I am guessing that she will make sure that her passports are up to date in the future. Read more
quotes How many different versions of the same story will the Times publish today? Read more
quotes There's something so sad about Ms. Parvaz alleged performance at the Syrian border. Tha... Read more

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From the confines of a tiny cell in Syria, Dorothy Parvaz could hear the hoarse cries of young men being savagely beaten nearby, she says in a piece for her employer Al-Jazeera English.

Her firsthand accounts of the prison conditions in Syria came shortly after she called her fiancé and family in Vancouver, B.C., to tell them Iranian authorities had released her and she was safely back in Qatar.

Parvaz, 39, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, disappeared April 29 after she arrived in Syria to cover the unrest there. After days of silence about her whereabouts, Syrian officials said last week she'd been sent to Iran, the country of her birth. By Wednesday, Iran had released her, though it had never acknowledged holding her.

"I'm very grateful that she is home safe, and the Syria experiences seemed incredibly dark," said Todd Barker, Parvaz's fiancé in a phone interview from Vancouver on Wednesday. "To listen to other people being tortured has got to be harrowing."

Parvaz told Barker she'd been held in solitary confinement in Iran but had otherwise been treated well.

Her experience in Syria was very different as she described in Al-Jazeera.

Syrian authorities detained her, she wrote, because they thought she might be a U.S. spy for Israel. When her luggage was searched, Syrian agents found a satellite phone, an Internet hub, her U.S. passport and her Al-Jazeera-sponsored visa, she wrote. Parvaz has Canadian, Iranian and U.S. citizenship and had entered Syria using her Iranian passport, which Syrian embassy officials said had expired.

While she was in Syrian custody, Parvaz wrote, she was handcuffed, blindfolded and taken to what seemed like a courtyard where she heard the beatings.

"The beatings were savage, the words uttered by those beaten only hoarse cries — "Wallahi! Wahalli!" ("I swear to God! I swear to God!") or simply, "La! La!" ("No! No!")," Parvaz wrote.

One of her cellmates was a 25-year-old shop assistant for a clothing store while others appeared to be years younger. She described the shop assistant and a teen girl who both were terrified and both of whom said they had no idea why they were being held.

Parvaz will arrive in Vancouver, B.C., soon, Barker said. Late Wednesday afternoon, she was still making travel arrangements, he said, and her arrival would likely be a private, family affair.

Parvaz's release, Barker said, was the result of hard work by the U.S. Department of State and Canada's ministry of foreign affairs.

"Their guidance and insight was essential," he said. "Canada had many contacts and worked as hard as anybody, and I'm thrilled."

U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., also shares some credit, he said. Matt McAlvanah, Murray's spokesman, said Murray called Imad Moustapha, the Syrian ambassador to the United States on May 5, expressing her concern about Parvaz. He told her Parvaz was sent back from where she'd come, which Murray assumed was Qatar.

When still nothing was heard from Parvaz, Murray made another call to Moustapha on May 6 asking for specific information. He returned the call May 8, saying Parvaz had been sent to Iran.

Friends who worked for Parvaz's release said they are euphoric after hearing she is safe.

Melanie McFarland worked with Parvaz in Seattle.

"Every superlative is failing me," McFarland said. "I hope she knows she's loved and never feels alone again."

McFarland said she laughed when Parvaz, who hates to have her picture taken, said the first thing she wants to do when she returns home is burn all her pictures.

"She sounded good but was embarrassed by all the attention," McFarland said. "I told her she has nothing to apologize for, she did nothing but try to do her job."

Information from The Associated Press and The Seattle Times archives was included in this report.

Queenie Wong: 206-464-2108 or qwong@seattletimes.com and

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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