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Jailed in Libya, Harvard Graduate and Journalist Clare Gillis Talks to Parents

By Heng Shao, Crimson Staff Writer

Clare M. Gillis, a recent Harvard graduate who was reporting on the Libyan civil war, was finally allowed to call home last Thursday, marking her first contact with the outside world more than two weeks after being captured in Libya.

“She said they were treating her very well. She had what she described as pink pajamas,” said Jane Gillis, her mother, in an interview with The Crimson.

Clare Gillis’ parents received the phone call at around 1:00 p.m. Eastern time, when they were in the office of the Atlantic Magazine in Washington, D.C. In the 20-minute conversation, Clare Gillis told them that she had been moved to a women’s civilian jail in Tripoli and had remained there since April 19.

“None of the women spoke English, and [Clare’s] Arabic is very, very basic,” said Jane Gillis. “[But] they were combing each other’s hair. They were doing wash together. They were basically interacting.”

Clare Gillis’ father, Robert Gillis, said that they cannot predict when their daughter would be released, as they are unaware of the specific steps that are being taken by the State Department and the Turkish government, which have been working together to ensure her release and that of another captured journalist James Foley.

The Turkish ambassador to Libya has been trying to secure a visit to journalists that are being held by the Libyan authorities, according to Jane Gillis.

“The phone call was the first step,” she added. “We hope that Clare will be seen shortly and then [the journalists] will be released.”

She said she hopes that Harvard can make use of its alumni network to help expedite the release of her daughter, who spent 10 years at Harvard as a graduate student, a history adviser at Adams House, and teaching fellow for nine undergraduate courses.

“If there’s anyone who is connected with Harvard [that] has business with the Libyan government right now, I would encourage them to encourage the Libyan government to release Clare and all of the others,” she said.

Before she was captured on April 5, Claire Gillis was covering the civil conflict in Libya as a freelance reporter for the Atlantic and USA Today.

According to her parents, she was “in her element” in Libya, working 12 to 14 hours a day.

“She is interested in the dynamics of struggle and wants to report...what people were willing to do to invest in the efforts to make a better life for themselves and for others,” said Robert Gillis.

In a press conference in Washington last Thursday, Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton called for the immediate release of “Americans who are being unjustly detained by Libyan authorities, including at least two reporters,” in reference to Clare Gillis and Foley.

Foley was also allowed to call home last Friday, telling his family that he was not injured and was well treated at a detention center in Tripoli, where Clare Gillis previously stayed.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 80 attacks on journalists have been documented since the beginning of the conflict in Libya. These attacks include 49 detentions, 11 assaults, at least three serious injuries, and four fatalities.

Among the deaths were two award-winning photojournalists Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, who were killed in Libya last week.

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

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