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Gillis Expected To Call From Libya

By Heng Shao, Crimson Staff Writer

Clare M. Gillis, Harvard graduate and freelance reporter who was captured in Libya two weeks ago, may be allowed to call home this week.

According to a Medill News Service article on Tuesday, the Libyan government has alerted the U.S. State Department to expect a phone call from Gillis and James Foley, a freelancer who was captured with Gillis. The information was communicated to Foley’s mother, who welcomed it as an encouraging sign and a confirmation that Foley and Gillis are currently held by the Libyan government.

It is uncertain whether Gillis’ family has been directly informed of the possible phone call and when exactly it will happen. But friends of Gillis said they were heartened by the news and hope that it might be one step closer toward securing her release.

“One advantage for her calling home would be ... that she would know that there have been people working for her, hundreds of people, who care and are deeply concerned, and don’t sleep at night,” said Alexander More, a history teaching fellow at Harvard who has known Gillis for six years.

Today marks the 17th day since Gillis’ capture on April 5. Friends and family members of Gillis have been anxiously awaiting her release, though little information has come out of Libya regarding Gillis’ whereabouts.

“We are very worried, literally. We are very concerned about this because we just don’t know anything about it right now,” said Robert Gillis, her father.

Prior to the news about the phone call, the only confirmation of the Libyan government’s holding of Gillis came from a released Al Jazeera journalist, who was reported to have seen Gillis at a government detention center in Tripoli in good shape but with a black eye.

“Every time we eat, every time we take a shower, at least the closest friends think, well, has Clare been able to take a shower, has Clare been able to have a hot meal lately?” More said.

Efforts have been taken by various parties, including Harvard University, the State Department, and nongovernmental organizations, to expedite the release of Gillis and other captured journalists.

“We are closely following the news regarding Dr. Gillis. Harvard officials have been in direct contact with the State Department to register our concern about her detention, and we support the US government’s call for her release,” Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin wrote in an email to The Crimson.

In a press release on April 15, the Human Rights Watch demanded the immediate release of the captured journalists, condemning the detention as “unlawful restrictions by the government.”

An online petition pressuring for the journalists’ release was created, with the goal originally set for 5,000 signatures but recently upgraded to 10,000. As of last night, the number of signatures reached 4,920.

Friends and family of Gillis have been working hard to increase awareness of the issue through press contacts and online information sharing. Clare Gillis’ parents were interviewed by the BBC today about their daughter and will be appearing on this morning’s Today Show, according to a post on the Facebook page Friends for the Release of Clare Gillis.

The State Department continues to work with the Turkish government and NGOs on the issue, though the lack of a strong U.S. diplomatic presence in Libya and protracted violence may complicate negotiations.

“The State Department is very careful about what they share, justly so, and so are members of government and members of Congress, because it is sensitive information and requires painstaking efforts and risks on our own personnel here,” said More, who has been in frequent contact with Senator John Kerry’s office. “We have to be very careful about the situation because we don’t want to make it worse. We don’t want this woman to be held for weeks or months, that can’t happen.”

—Staff writer Heng Shao can be reached at shao@college.harvard.edu.

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