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Al Jazeera journalist, missing in Syria, returned to Qatar from Iran

Al Jazeera's Dorothy Parvaz, who went missing on arriving in Damascus to cover the Syrian protests, is returned to Qatar by Iran, where she had been held for most of the 19 days.

May 19, 2011|By Borzou Daragahi, Los Angeles Times
  • Dorothy Parvaz, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, went to work for Al Jazeera news network last year.
Dorothy Parvaz, a former Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter, went to… (Joshua Trujillo, Seattle…)

Reporting from Beirut — The mysterious 19-day detention and release of a Seattle journalist in Syria and Iran has underscored the murky security ties that bind those staunch Middle East allies at a time when both are under international pressure over alleged human rights violations and pursuit of nuclear technology.

Dorothy Parvaz, who holds American, Canadian and Iranian citizenship, arrived safely Wednesday in the Qatari capital of Doha on a flight from Iran after being out of touch for nearly three weeks, according to Al Jazeera television, her employer. She reportedly told her fiance she was held for much of the period in solitary confinement in Tehran's Evin Prison.

"She has been in contact with her family, and we are with her now to find out more about her ordeal over the last 19 days," a statement quoted an unidentified Al Jazeera representative as saying.

Parvaz's case illustrated the tangled ties that bind the security establishments of Syria and its sole steadfast regional ally, Iran.

Syrians alleged Parvaz was arrested and deported to Iran because she arrived in Damascus on April 29 with an expired Iranian passport. But an Iranian official Wednesday contradicted that claim. "After an examination of her case it was established that there was nothing wrong with her passport," said Abbas Jaafari Dowlatabadi, chief Tehran prosecutor.

Dozens of journalists have been among the hundreds of people, most of them political dissidents, who have gone missing in the violent crackdown to quash protests against the rule of Syrian President Bashar Assad. Many observers say his regime serves as a conduit for Iranian influence and weapons along the eastern Mediterranean.

Parvaz had traveled to Damascus to cover the unrest. Syrian authorities eventually acknowledged detaining her but said she had been handed over to the Iranian consulate within two days of her arrival and placed on a Caspian Airlines flight to Tehran. Under common practice, she would have been deported to Qatar, where her arrival flight originated.

Iranian officials claimed for weeks to have no knowledge of Parvaz's whereabouts. Then on Tuesday, Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in Tehran that Parvaz had violated the law by using an expired passport and attempting to enter Syria on false grounds, though he did not acknowledge that she was being held in Iran.

Parvaz's fiance, Todd Barker, told the Seattle Times that she had been held until late Tuesday at Evin Prison, where she was questioned and kept from contacting her family but had been treated well.

Within Iran's multifaceted national security establishment, different official and semi-official apparatuses often pursue divergent and contradictory foreign policies. Last year, former Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki appeared stunned as Nigerian officials accused Iranian diplomats of running weapons through the African nation's ports.

According to Western diplomats and experts, Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard dominates foreign policy for the countries of the Middle East and maintains close relationships with the highest levels of Syria's intelligence and security branches.

Parvaz joined Al Jazeera last year. She was educated in Canada and the United States and previously worked for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

daragahi@latimes.com

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