When Dorothy Parvaz flew to Damascus on May 1 she never made it to her hotel. After two weeks and little information about the Al Jazeera reporter's whereabouts, Syrian officials told the news network she had been deported to Iran, which finally released Parvaz yesterday. Featuring details of forced confessions and violent beatings, the description Parvaz offered of her detention is dreadful. In an appearance on Al Jazeera English today, Parvaz looks tired. Over the course of her near three-week long ordeal, Syrian security agents shuttled her from interrogation room to interrogation room and at one point, she spent three days in one of the secret detention centers that holds Syria's "disappeared." Parvaz described the the prison and offers details of how she ended up there in an article this morning:
Welcome to mini-Guantanamo; perhaps one of many in Syria where protesters and bystanders alike have been swept up in the wide net cast by an increasingly paranoid government since the start of anti-government protests several weeks ago. I'd ended up there because a scan of my luggage had revealed that I had a satellite phone and an internet hub with me - the commercially available type, nothing special, and just the sort of thing one might need while travelling in a country with spotty communications. Still, if that was deemed suspicious, then my American passport, complete with its Al Jazeera-sponsored visa, sealed the deal. The agents couldn't seem to agree what I was, or which was worse: an American spy for Israel, or an Al Jazeera reporter – both were pretty much on a par.
During her stay, Parvaz met a number of the "disappeared" women, all of whom had no idea why they had been detained. The Syrian guards fed the prisoners fetid food, and Parvaz describes the prison cells as "smeared with blood." The sounds of what happened in neighboring cells indicates why:
Most of the our days were spent listening to the sounds of young men being brutally interrogated – sometimes tied up in stress positions until it sounded like their bones were cracking, as we saw from our bathroom window (a bathroom with no running water, except for one tap in a sink filled with roughly 10 cm of sewage). One afternoon, the beating we heard was so severe that we could clearly hear the interrogator pummelling his boots and fists into his subject, almost in a trance, yelling questions or accusations rhythmically as the blows landed in what sounded like the prisoner's midriff. My roommate shook and wept, reminding me (or perhaps herself) that they didn't beat women here.
Parvaz concludes that Syrian officials thought she was a spy and sent her to Tehran under those charges. Officials in Iran--one of the three countries along with Canada and the U.S. for which Parvaz holds a passport a--jailed her as well ,but despite having written critically about Iran in the past, Parvas says she was treated with "respect courtesy and care throughout [her] detention there."
Read the full, sometimes graphic account at Al Jazeera.