Shifting focus, same principle in urging journalist's release

Former Seattle journalist Dorothy Parvaz is out of Syria, but now is said to be detained in Iran.

Former Seattle journalist Dorothy Parvaz is out of Syria, but now is said to be detained in Iran.

As detained American journalist Dorothy Parvaz’s situation dragged out, her colleagues and supporters throughout the world were stepping up their efforts to win her release from Syria. Now, the efforts will have to refocus on Iran, where she is reportedly being held after being sent from Syria.

Syrian officials had earlier assured her news service, Al Jazeera English, that Parvaz was being held in Damascus, suggesting she eventually would be released. On Wednesday (May 11), an Al Jazeera spokesman said: "We have now received information that she is being held in Tehran. We are calling for information from the Iranian authorities, access to Dorothy, and for her immediate release. We have had no contact with Dorothy since she left Doha on 29 April and we are deeply concerned for her welfare."

Parvaz, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer writer and 2009 Nieman Fellow at Harvard, was detained after arriving in Damascus on April 29 to cover anti-government protests in Syria.  Parvaz, an Al Jazeera correspondent since 2010, had returned from covering the aftermath of the earthquake in Japan. 

In the tinderbox of Middle East geopolitics, Parvaz’s predicament has captured our attention as much for what it says about the politics of failed states as it confirms what many of us already know about the perils of being an independent journalist in strife-torn nations.

As former Seattle Post-Intelligencer managing editor, David McCumber, wrote the other day, the safety of journalists covering war-torn nations in the Middle East these days is anything but guaranteed. “Most of us in this business are aware of the horrifying statistics that are just a click away on the Committee to Protect Journalists’ excellent website.

Journalists have faced ever-increasing restrictions in Syria since the protests began.  Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s brutal crackdown on dissidents and journalists leaves little doubt that truth will be the first casualty of the Arab Awakening there.

As McCumber notes, the committee reports that at least 16 journalists already have been killed in the line of duty in 2011, and that some 145 journalists are imprisoned worldwide — a number that is, according to the committee, at a 14-year high. CPJ's count does not include journalists who have been imprisoned after January of this year.

Parvaz, a former P-I editorial writer and columnist (under the byline D. Parvaz), is a courageous reporter whose commitment to ferreting out the truth has never wavered throughout her career. Her dogged pursuit of tough stories, however, overlooks another facet of her many gifts — her thoughtfulness.

At a roundtable focus group of local media at CityClub of Seattle convened less than four years ago, Parvaz’s creative insights were on full display as together we explored collaborative strategies between news media and CityClub to shine a spotlight on the vital issues affecting the life of our region. It was my first and only encounter with Parvaz, but that session left a lasting impression on me and speaks volumes about her qualities as a journalist and the compassion she brings to the craft of reporting. 

The Asian American Journalists Association, UNITY Journalists of Color, Committee to Protect Journalists, Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University, scores of human rights organizations, such as Amnesty International, and private citizens here and elsewhere have collectively voiced their concern for one of their colleagues.

“UNITY believes that a free press is one of the pillars of a democracy,” said the organizations spokesperson last week.  “And it is our hope that Syria will adhere to the principles that guarantee the free flow of information and ideas.”  We must insist that the government of Iran do likewise.

To ensure that the leaders in Iran abide by those same principles, Parvaz’s plight requires our unwavering and vigilant response, now more than ever before.  As citizens of a free society, we owe her nothing less.

This article was written in collaboration with the International Examiner.


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About the Authors & Contributors

Collin Tong

Collin Tong

Collin Tong is a correspondent for Crosscut and University Outlook magazine. He served as guest lecturer at the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. His new book, "Into the Storm: Journeys with Alzheimer’s," will be published in January 2014.