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Al Jazeera Journalist Dorothy Parvaz Remains Missing After Being Detained in Syria, Then Deported to Iran

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Al Jazeera English reporter Dorothy Parvaz, an American-Canadian-Iranian citizen, was detained in Syria on April 29 when she arrived to cover the ongoing unrest. She has not been seen since. On Wednesday, Al Jazeera reported she had been deported to Iran, although there has been no direct contact with her. The Committee to Protect Journalists is calling for her immediate release from Iranian authorities. We are joined by Kim Barker, the sister of Parvaz’s fiancé, Todd Barker, who introduced the couple. She has known Parvaz for 12 years, having met as colleagues at the Seattle Times. Kim Barker is now a ProPublica reporter who has reported from Pakistan and Afghanistan. “Dorothy is an amazing journalist. She is an amazing human being,” Kim Barker says. [includes rush transcript]

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StoryMay 09, 2011Syria Crackdown: Syrian Dissident Haitham al-Maleh Speaks from Hiding as Al Jazeera Journalist Dorothy Parvaz Remains Locked Up
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn to the case of the missing Al Jazeera reporter Dorothy Parvaz. Parvaz is an American-Canadian-Iranian citizen who was detained in Syria two weeks ago, shortly after arriving there to cover the ongoing unrest. Human rights organizations estimate the Syrian authorities have detained more than 7,000 people since protests began in mid-March.

On Wednesday, Al Jazeera said it received word that Parvaz has been deported to Iran. Family and friends of hers are concerned for her safety because she has reported extensively on the clashes between Iranian security forces and anti-government protesters. The Committee to Protect Journalists is calling for her immediate release. It says Iran, along with China, was the world’s top jailer of journalists in 2010.

Shortly after she disappeared in Syria, her fiancé Todd Barker issued an appeal through Al Jazeera English.

TODD BARKER: She sees her profession as a force for good, peace and justice in the world. She has worked at newspapers across the globe, from Japan to Arizona, from Seattle, Washington, to Doha, Qatar, where she currently works at Al Jazeera English.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Todd Barker, Dorothy Parvaz’s fiancé, issuing a statement last week on behalf of her family. Dorothy used to work at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer. She was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University. She currently works at Al Jazeera English.

For more, we’re joined by Todd’s sister, Kim Barker, who introduced her brother Todd to Dorothy. She’s known Dorothy for 12 years. They met as colleagues at the Seattle Times. Kim Barker is currently a journalist at ProPublica who has reported from Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Kim, welcome to Democracy Now!

KIM BARKER: Thanks for having me.

AMY GOODMAN: How have you heard what has happened to Dorothy, from Syria to Iran?

KIM BARKER: Well, we heard, within 24 hours of her leaving for Syria from Doha, that she had just never arrived. She never checked in to her hotel. And we just could not get word for her. The news was not made public for a few more days. And then we got word and were increasingly convinced that she was sent to Iran this week.

AMY GOODMAN: What gives you that indication?

KIM BARKER: Well, the Syrians have said they sent her to Iran. All the best information we have is that she was on a flight to Iran on May 1st, a Caspian Air flight. That’s what the Syrians have been saying.


KIM BARKER: Well, they say that they were meeting international law, that she came in on an expired passport, and that they were going with international law by deporting her, two days after she arrived, to the country that her passport was from, which was Iran. I don’t agree with that. I think that — I feel like this was malicious, and that if you’re going to deport somebody because they come in on an expired passport, you send them back to where they came from, and you don’t hold them for two days.

AMY GOODMAN: She is a Canadian-Iranian-American citizen?

KIM BARKER: Yes. She has passports from all three countries.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And the response of the Iranian government? Have they even acknowledged that she’s there?

KIM BARKER: No, and we don’t know — we don’t know where she is. And that’s really the major concern of the family and of her loved ones and of her friends. I mean, Dorothy is an amazing journalist. She’s an amazing human being. And we know that she’s probably more worried about her family and friends right now knowing where she is than she is about herself. She’s just that kind of person. And we just want to know where she is. And I don’t even know if the Iranian authorities were aware, necessarily, that she had been sent there on May 1st, because the foreign minister came out the next day asking Syria — saying if Syria had her, that they were very concerned and that they would also work for her release.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And your concern in terms of what — the journalism she’s done on Iran in the past?

KIM BARKER: I mean, you’re always concerned. I’ve reported from Iran in the past. And there is a concern that any time you write about Iran whatsoever, that the authorities might look at that, and they might, you know, comb through it and see if anything’s been offensive to the regime. In my opinion, Dorothy was just reporting the facts over there. She did a series of stories about what it was like to live between different worlds. I mean, here’s a person — she grew up in Iran, then she moves to Dubai, and then she ends up in Canada, and then she goes to America. And she wrote a very, I thought, powerful series of stories about what it was like being a citizen of the world, you know, in the in-between. And I don’t really see anything she did as being against a government or anything like that. But, of course, you’re concerned about reporting, and you’re concerned about somebody seeing something that might not even be there.

AMY GOODMAN: The Syrian government kept the lid on news of Dorothy Parvaz’s arrest until finally acknowledging she had been detained. This is Reem Haddad, a spokesman for Syrian Information Ministry, speaking on Al Jazeera last week.

REEM HADDAD: I have no idea whether Dorothy Parvaz is in Syria. I have no idea whether she is being held in Syria. I have absolutely no information on this account.

AL JAZEERA REPORTER: We have pictures. We have eyewitness accounts. We have lots of reports —

REEM HADDAD: But I’m telling you — I’m asking you a simple question.

AL JAZEERA REPORTER: — that people are being killed in Syria, and you’re denying it.

REEM HADDAD: The people who confirmed this to you, you must follow this up with them, the people who confirmed this with you. You must follow this up with them.

AL JAZEERA REPORTER: But I’m following this up with you, as to where our journalist Dorothy Parvaz is.

REEM HADDAD: But I could not [inaudible] to you, sir.

AMY GOODMAN: That was a spokesperson for the Syrian government on Al Jazeera. Your response?

KIM BARKER: You know, I don’t agree with the Syrians saying they didn’t know where she was. Obviously, they did. Obviously, they knew who she was. They knew she worked for Al Jazeera English, I’m sure, from almost the very beginning. And I think that they’re just — they’re just trying to hide it or, for whatever reason, didn’t want to say it at that particular time.

AMY GOODMAN: You have a long relationship with Dorothy over the years.


AMY GOODMAN: You met at the Seattle Times.


AMY GOODMAN: She was what? An intern there or a —

KIM BARKER: She was a temp.


KIM BARKER: Yeah, yeah. And I had just been hired at the Seattle Times. So, you know, we were very new together. There was a group of young reporters who hung out together and went everywhere together. And my brother was in law school at the time, and he would visit me. And I introduced him to Dorothy. And within a year, they started dating, actually.

AMY GOODMAN: And then you went on to where, to report where? And what was your work relationship with —

KIM BARKER: I went on to the Chicago Tribune after the Seattle newspapers went on strike in 2000. And I ended up over in Afghanistan and Pakistan for five years as the South Asian bureau chief for the Chicago Tribune. And Dorothy and I would joke about that, because she would have been so much better at that job than I was, because she actually spoke one of the main local languages in Afghanistan and had always wanted to do that kind of work. She was very passionate about — she is very passionate about the world and about covering those stories.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And in your sense, as someone who’s been in that area of the — not only are journalists in danger, but Al Jazeera journalists are in particular danger in that part of the world. Could you talk about how governments in the area have been reacting in recent years to the reporting of Al Jazeera?

KIM BARKER: Well, I mean, obviously, especially in recent months, there’s been a lot of turmoil in the Middle East, and you’ve got all these uprisings going on from Egypt to Libya to Yemen to Syria. And before that, you had Iran. And I think that Al Jazeera and Al Jazeera English have played a powerful role in getting out the word of what exactly is happening there. I mean, in many cases, they’re the only network that’s going to be in a place that something’s happening. And I applaud their journalism, and I think that they’ve done a great job covering the news there. But obviously, when you’re in these places and you’re covering stories, some people might not want those stories to get out. And I think that that has happened to Al Jazeera, and especially Al Jazeera English recently.

AMY GOODMAN: The latest news also out of Iran, having to do with reporters: Shane Bauer, who reported for Democracy Now! on Iraq, and Josh Fatal, the two American hikers, the trial for them that was set this week was —

KIM BARKER: Delayed.

AMY GOODMAN: — inexplicably delayed. So we don’t know what’s happened with him. We covered years ago, in 2003, the Canadian-Iranian freelance photographer named Zahra Kazemi. She was 54. She was taking pictures of the Evin Prison, they said, and she was basically beaten to death there.

KIM BARKER: Right. We don’t think that Dorothy is in any sort of danger like that. She wasn’t covering anything in Iran. We choose to look at other cases, and we choose to think that the Iranians will be freeing her soon, once they figure out exactly where she is and what’s happened. I think that they have to sort through that.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the U.S. doing?

KIM BARKER: I can’t say for sure what the U.S. is doing. I know that the U.S. and the Canadian government are both aware of the situation and are working on the situation behind the scenes, from what I understand.

AMY GOODMAN: You work at ProPublica now.


AMY GOODMAN: How are you doing your work and dealing with your close friend, your future sister-in-law, being detained right now?

KIM BARKER: I’m not doing a very good job at work. They’ve been very understanding of this. It’s been a very difficult time. I’ve had friends, you know, kidnapped. My friend Sean was a journalist for Channel 4 in Britain, and he was held for three months by the Taliban. I’ve known people who have been detained. There has been nothing in my life that’s been quite like this, because it affects people I love so much. You know, it’s one thing being able to hold on for yourself and to know that, yes, this will work out and, yes, I’m certain that she’s going to be safe, and I’m certain that they’re treating her well. But it’s another thing trying to tell my parents that and my brother that and talking to Dorothy’s father about it. And it’s been very difficult. It’s probably one of the most challenging things I’ve ever faced in my life.

AMY GOODMAN: And you were for years in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

KIM BARKER: Yeah, yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much for being with us. Is there a website that is set up where people can follow whatever information is coming out on Dorothy’s case?

KIM BARKER: We’re in the process of setting up a website. We hope that we don’t have to, that they’ll release her before it’s actually done. But you can go on Facebook to the “Free Dorothy Parvaz” page and “like” it, and then also on Twitter, we’ve started a hashtag of “Free Dorothy.” And then we’ve got a news site at “Free Dorothy” that you can follow.

AMY GOODMAN: Why did she go to Syria?

KIM BARKER: She went there to cover what was happening. Yeah, she — I mean, Dorothy is a reporter. I mean, she’s a reporter through and through, and she wants to get at the truth, and she wants to actually be on the ground and cover what’s happening. It’s like any of us who do this work. You know, you’re driven to do it, and other people don’t understand, and you try to explain, “This is why I do what I do,” but it’s just so ingrained in you, you can’t even make it make sense to somebody. Why would you go to a place like Syria? Why would you go to a place like Iran or Afghanistan or any of these places? These stories are important, and somebody has to be out there telling them. And nobody was in Syria. And I think Dorothy wanted to be able to just get there and show what was happening.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us. And we will certainly link to the various sites, including Facebook.com/freedorothy.

KIM BARKER: Thank you very much.

AMY GOODMAN: Thanks very much, Kim Barker, journalist at ProPublica, longtime friend of Dorothy Parvaz, sister of Dorothy’s fiancé. Kim is the author of The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

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