missing-journalist

Syria holding reporter at center of Twitter campaign

May 4, 2011 at 6:46 PM ET

You can help push Syria to free journalist Dorothy Parvaz by joining the Twitter campaign. Use the #FreeDorothy hashtag and tell the world and the Syrian government that it's time to let her go home.

If you've been following the news about missing reporter Dorothy Parvaz like I have — if perhaps you're one of the many many people who've joined the growing Twitter and Facebook movement demanding her release — then there is some good news today.

The Syrian government has confirmed that Dorothy is alive and they are holding her.

I repeat ... Dorothy is alive.

Dorothy is not only an accomplished reporter who's worked for the Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Japan's Asahi Shimbun and, most recently, Al Jazeera English out of Qatar. She's also a good friend of mine and at the center of a growing online movement to secure her release.

Dorothy first went missing last Friday after she flew to the capital of Syria. As the Telegraph points out, she is one of the few foreign journalists who have attempted to enter Syria to cover what's happening there.

What is happening there? Protestors are standing up to a violent authoritarian leadership. Troops are rounding up hundreds of people and taking them away. Innocent people are being killed.

These are the things conscientious journalists care about. These are the things Dorothy cares about.

On Monday, as news that Dorothy had disappeared spread, Twitter, Facebook and other online resources became the go-to destination for family, friends and many others trying to get her plight noticed — trying to get the powers that be to use those powers to find her and free her.

As I wrote, a stunning number of friends and strangers alike lit up Twitter with tweets under the #FreeDorothy hashtag. Even Bianca Jagger, founder of the Bianca Jagger Human Rights Foundation (and first wife of Mick), spread the word about Dorothy's disappearance on Twitter.

Meanwhile, a Free Dorothy Parvaz page on Facebook quickly swelled from a mere 100 followers to 5,000, and is still growing. That — along with telephone and email campaigns, blog posts and even a Wikipedia page — the powers that be couldn't help but notice. And they have begun to act.

The U.S. ambassador to Syria has met with a senior Syrian official, the Seattle Times reports. And Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., has made a formal inquiry to the State Department asking for help finding her.

As we've seen time and time again, during moments of turmoil around the world, this is the way forces are swayed these days. Social networks and other online tools unite us and give us power that we wouldn't have on our own.

Certainly Wednesday's news is good news to the many of us who have joined the campaign to demand Dorothy's return.

"It's good news we now know where she is," Dorothy's dad, Fred Parvaz, told the Seattle Times. "At least someone's feeding her and there's a roof over her head."

But as Amnesty International reports, the Syrian government has not treated many of its detainees well.  Those people picked up in mass arrests there have told the human rights organization of beatings and harsh conditions in detention. And as the Washington Post reports, in prisons around the world, there are 145 journalists trapped behind bars for trying to practice their craft.

All we know is that Dorothy is alive and she is in the hands of a government that we can only hope will treat her humanely.

So while the grassroots support is clearly being heard, the fight for her release is not over. As Dorothy's fiancé, Todd Barker, said on the Free Dorothy Parvaz Facebook page: "We need to up the pressure and demand that they return her to Doha (where she currently lives and works) ... We need Dorothy home!"

Her family is asking, begging, pleading with you — with anyone who reads this — to continue the support both online and offline for Dorothy's release. They say, "Please continue to politely and persistently press for Dorothy's freedom from Syrian custody." ("Politely" because, as they point out, in delicate international situations honey will catch more flies than vinegar.)

So what can you do?

  • Use the #FreeDorothy hashtag on Twitter and demand Dorothy's safe release.
  • Like and share the Free Dorothy Parvaz page here.
  • U.S. citizens should contact the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C. by email as1@syrembassy.net or by phone 202-232-6313 ext. 139.
  • Canadian citizens should contact their Syrian Embassy by phone at (613) 569-5556 or by email at ambassador@syrianembassy.ca.

As one of the concerned commenters on the Free Dorothy Facebook sums it up: "Dorothy Parvaz represents all of us living in the free world, her disappearance is an attack on the basic human right to bear witness to and to report on human suffering. The Syrian government must be held accountable for her safety."

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Winda Benedetti writes about video games and technology for msnbc.com. You can follow her tweets about games and other things right here on Twitter.


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