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5 foreign journalists freed by Libya and Iran

/ 03:55 PM May 19, 2011

TRIPOLI, Libya—The Libyan government has released four foreign journalists and a fifth reached freedom in Qatar after disappearing while on assignment in Syria, the latest reporters to be freed after being swept up while covering unrest in the Middle East.

Americans Clare Morgana Gillis and James Foley, along with British freelance reporter Nigel Chandler and Spanish photographer Manuel Varela, appeared at a Tripoli hotel after being released on Wednesday from six weeks detention in Libya.

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Earlier, Iranian-born Dorothy Parvaz, who also has US and Canadian citizenship and works for Al-Jazeera television, arrived at her network’s home base in Doha after being freed by Iran. All five were reported in good health.

“I’ve spoken to our son,” Diane Foley of Rochester, N.H., told The Associated Press. “He’s in good health, he’s feeling very, very relieved. He’s feeling very hopeful.”

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She said the first thing he said to her on the phone was “‘Hey, ma, it’s me. It’s Jim. I’m fine, we’re at a hotel.'” She said he told her the four were to be taken early Thursday to the border with Tunisia, where they would cross out of Libya .

Three of the journalists — Gillis, who freelances for The Atlantic and USA Today; Foley who writes for the Boston-based news agency GlobalPost and Varela, who works under the name Manu Brabo — were detained on April 5 near the Libyan town of Brega. Chandler was detained separately.

They were freed a day after the Libyan government said it had given them a one-year suspended sentence on charges of illegally entering the country.

Jane Gillis of New Haven, Conn., expressed relief at the news. “We’re ecstatic and we are looking forward to seeing her,” she said in a Web posting by The Atlantic.

Editor James Bennet said the magazine had been in close touch with the US government, media colleagues and intermediaries on the ground in Libya. “We’re hugely grateful today to diplomats, Americans and others, who have played a role” in securing the release, he said.

The 39-year-old Parvaz, who previously worked as a reporter and columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, disappeared soon after arriving in Syria on April 29 to cover the anti-government protests there; the Damascus government disclosed on May 4 that she had been deported to Iran.

Though she herself was not harmed, Parvaz said that while in Syria, she witnessed the torture of Syrian civilians.

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“The beatings I heard almost around the clock were savage,” she told the Al-Jazeera network. “The first night they took me out blindfolded and handcuffed into a courtyard, I’m fairly certain to scare me. I heard two separate interrogations and beatings. These young men … being beaten so harshly.”

Parvaz’s fiance, Todd Barker, said he was surprised when she called him early Wednesday from Qatar as she was clearing customs.

“I looked at my phone, saw it was her number and God, it was … unreal,” he said. Parvaz told him that “she was interrogated, but she’s fine,” he added. He said she would be traveling to Vancouver, Canada, though he was not certain when.

There was no word on the fate of another missing journalist, photographer Anton Hammerl, who disappeared in Libya about the same time as the four journalists released Wednesday. Gillis said she had not seen him.

Penny Sukhraj, wife of the 41-year-old Hammerl, who holds dual South African and Austrian citizenship, said she had been contacted by diplomats who confirmed her husband was not among those freed.

Hammerl, a 41-year-old dual South African and Austrian national, has been missing since early April after being detained close to the eastern city of Brega.

“Our understanding was that he was detained with the four others, but we don’t have any clarity on where he is. We’re hoping that now the four have been released, they may be able to shed some light,” Sukhraj, a London-based journalist and mother of the couple’s two children, told the AP.

Libyan government spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said Libya holds no other reporters. “At the moment I think we have released all journalists, unless some have been captured in the past two days and I haven’t heard about it,” he said.

Schreck reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Michael Melia in Hartford, Conn., Kathy McCormack in Concord, N.H., Charmaine Noronha in Toronto and Thomas Wagner in London contributed to this report.

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