Four journalists held in Libya released Wednesday; fifth held in Iran also freed

A total of five Western journalists regained their freedom on Wednesday. Four that were held by the Libyan government, including Americans James Foley and Clare Gillis, made their way to a Tripoli hotel.

Mahmud Turkia/AFP/Getty Images/Newscom
(L-R) Freed journalists Nigel Chandler of Britain, Manu Brabo of Spain, James Foley of the US and his compatriot Clare Morgana Gillis arrive at Rixos Hotel in the Libyan capital of Tripoli on May 18, following their release after they had disappeared on April 4 while covering the conflict in Libya.

The Libyan government released four foreign journalists on Wednesday 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 from six weeks detention in Libya.

Earlier, Iranian-born Dorothy Parvaz, who also has U.S. 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."

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 U.S. 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.

"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.

"We are so pleased for the families of James Foley, Clare Gillis, Manu Brabo and Nigel Chandler that they will be on their way home soon. But we are understandably devastated that there is still a question mark over Anton," she said in a statement posted on Facebook. "Our lives have come to a standstill and we desperately hope that the released journalists will be able to provide some insight into Anton's situation. At this point they seem to be our best hope."

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