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Gillis Still Hostage in Libya

By Nadia L. Farjood and Heng Shao, Crimson Staff Writers

Described as intrepid, resilient, resourceful, and intelligent by friends and professors, Clare M. Gillis, a recent Harvard graduate who was captured last Tuesday while working as a freelance reporter to cover the violence in Libya, remains hostage at a government detention center in Tripoli.

Gillis was detained outside the city of Brega, where a car carrying Gillis and three other journalists was taken over by forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

Gillis was spotted at the detention center in Tripoli with two of the journalists captured, according to media reports. The status of a South African photographer who was also captured, Anton Hammerl, is unknown.

Alexander More, who is friends with Gillis, said that she “has to get the hell out of there.”

“It haunts my dreams. I can’t even imagine,” said More, a history teaching fellow who knew Gillis for six years.

Sitting in front of two computer screens with news constantly updating, More called for immediate action by the Harvard community to bring her back.

“She served our community for 10 years as graduate student and teaching fellow. She should absolutely be on the mind of the [University] administration.” said More, frowning.

The White House called for the release of the journalists at a press briefing yesterday.

“We’re very aware of this issue, and I know the State Department is working very hard in order to do what it can to facilitate those journalists’ release,” said Jay Carney, President Obama’s press secretary. “We take this very, very seriously, as we did when other journalists were detained.”

As of yesterday, the Libyan government has not acknowledged the detention of the journalists. Sources in Libya said that the journalists were being treated well by the government, according to The Atlantic.

Yet, friends and acquaintances of Gillis remain deeply concerned.

“You don’t expect the worst to happen,” said Ece G. Turnator, a graduate student in the history department. “God knows what she’s going through, which is kind of scary.”

Since the news about Gillis’ capture spread last week, friends of Gillis have been organizing to secure her release. Jeffrey R. Webb and Elizabeth W. Mellyn, both Harvard Graduate School of Arts and Sciences graduates and close friends of Gillis, created a Facebook page called “Friends for the Release of Clare Gillis” to facilitate sharing updates of Gillis’ situation.

“This is not only a place to communicate with friends and share information, but a way of keeping the matter out there,” said Mellyn, who is currently on a year-long fellowship in Villa I Tatti, a Harvard research institute in Italy.

The History Department issued a news brief last Friday about the capture of Gillis, who was a history adviser in Adams House during the 2008-2009 academic year.

Gillis completed her master’s degree through the Harvard Germanic Languages and Literatures Department in 2003, and her Ph.D. in medieval history this spring. All the while, she interacted with other students, both as an adviser in Adams and as the TF of nine undergraduate courses.

“One of Clare’s favorite things to do on a nice day in spring was sitting on steps of Widener to philosophize and discuss current events with undergraduates,” Webb said.

After graduation, Gillis decided to travel around the Middle East and Asia, visiting countries like Israel, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, Indonesia, and India.

“She is one of those scholars and educated people who have harnessed her education and passion for history and current events to serve the public,” More said.

Later on, Gillis went to Egypt and Libya to report on the revolutions.

“When she heard about the Egyptian revolution, she was really on fire about it. She went to Egypt to watch the revolution happening, and she was in Tahrir Square for a lot of it,” said Mellyn.

“[Gillis] doesn’t have the backing of a publication like the New York Times,” Turnator said. “We’ve been trying to mobilize alumni and apply pressure in any way we can on both local and international authorities.”

Professors have also become involved in the efforts, reaching out to the University administration, NGOs, and government organizations to call for Gillis’ release.

History Professor Jeffrey F. Hamburger said he sent an email to University President Drew G. Faust about Gillis’ capture over the weekend, and Michael McCormick, a professor of medieval history who worked closely with Gillis as her adviser, said he personally urged Senator John F. Kerry to prioritize Gillis’ release and encouraged other people to register their concerns with Kerry and Senator Scott P. Brown.

McCormick pointed out that Gillis’ case is indicative of “a terrifying trend of the past decades of evil forces to snuff out journalists.”

The State Department, Human Rights Watch, the Committee to Protect Journalists, GlobalPost, and the Turkish government are working together to compel the release of the journalists.

“It is important for the people who have her to know that there’s a large group around the world who care about the fate of this young woman,” said McCormick.

—Staff writer Heng Shao can be reached at

—Staff writer Nadia L. Farjood can be reached at

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