Parents Of Captured Journalist Call For Her Release

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On April 5, Clare Gillis, a freelance reporter, was detained along with two other Western journalists by Libyan government forces near Brega in eastern Libya. Gillis was last seen in a Tripoli detention center two weeks ago. Michele Norris talks with Robert and Jane Gillis, Clare's parents, who have been publicly calling for their daughter's release.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The dangers of covering the turmoil in Libya were underscored this week by the deaths of two celebrated photojournalists: Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros. Several Western journalists have also gone missing in the conflict, including Clare Gillis. She's an American freelancer for USA Today and The Atlantic.

On April 5th, Gillis was riding in a vehicle with at least two other journalists outside the town of Brega in eastern Libya. They found themselves in the middle of fighting between loyalists and rebel forces and were detained by pro-Gadhafi troops. Clare Gillis had not been heard from since. That is until today.

She called her parents, Jane and Robert Gillis, who are here in Washington D.C. as part of a public campaign to win their daughter's freedom. I asked Jane to tell me about that phone call.

Ms. JANE GILLIS: My cell phone rang, and I picked it up, and she said, hi, Mom. And I said who is this? And she said it's Clare. I said Clare. I said I'm so happy to hear you.

NORRIS: What were the circumstances of the call? She - was she in someone's office, or did she use her cell phone?

Ms. GILLIS: No. She was given a phone. We learned that she is in a Libyan, a Tripoli women's prison, has been moved there from another prison. And they gave her a phone call, and it lasted about 20 minutes.

NORRIS: What did you learn about her condition and the conditions that she's being held in?

Mr. ROBERT GILLIS: We were more interested in really focusing on how she felt based on the way that she was responding to our conversations. My biggest fear, my fear as a father, was that she was going to give up hope. She had no idea that people even knew that she was in confinement in this country, no idea at all.

NORRIS: She'd been completely cut off.

Mr. GILLIS: She said she did not know what was going on in the world.

NORRIS: You know, Robert Gillis, you're concerned about her state of mind. I'm just curious when you heard her voice, a parent can figure out so much about what's going on with their child just from hearing their voice. You know all the cues, even if you're not looking at them. What did you hear?

Ms. GILLIS: That she was really in a very good state of mind, except she said that what she had been worried about for the past two weeks is that all the worry she was putting us through.

And we sad, you know: We love you. We just want you back home. Don't worry about that. We're hopeful that the Libyans will allow someone in to see her. No one is really - no one from the outside has been in to see any of these journalists and that they will then release her.

NORRIS: Did she say anything about that, her release?

Ms. GILLIS: Not really.

Mr. GILLIS: No. She wants to get out, and she has no information.

NORRIS: And you just talked to her. You didn't have an opportunity to talk to her handlers or anyone else on...

Ms. GILLIS: No.

Mr. GILLIS: Oh, no, no, no. This was basically a personal phone call. I have no idea whether it was being listened to. There was no interpretation involved. There were no gaps in the conversation in which it would have been clear to me that there was some effort to steer her answers in the right direction.

NORRIS: What do you know about her detainment? What happened when she was pulled out of that vehicle? Do you have any details?

Ms. GILLIS: I think that the van that they were riding in was caught between the Libyan government forces and the rebels, and there was fighting going on, and it was just that they got caught between the two.

NORRIS: How did - how were you informed that your daughter had been detained, that she had gone missing?

Ms. GILLIS: I got a friend's message on Facebook saying, you know: Be my friend. And it said: I am Peter Bouckaert from Human Rights Watch. I have some disturbing news that Clare Gillis has apparently gone missing in Libya.

NORRIS: This was on your Facebook page?

Ms. GILLIS: Yes, in my email.

Mr. GILLIS: He sent this only to Jane's email because based on, you know, the age and so forth, he assumed that this was a parent as opposed to a sibling or contemporary.

NORRIS: Mr. Gillis, I read that you expect your daughter to come home and hopefully soon. But you also expect that after her release, she would want to return to the region and continue reporting. Really?

Mr. GILLIS: I would see no reason why she would not go back, but I don't know.

Ms. GILLIS: I think perhaps not immediately. She said - one of the things she did say today is that she has a lot of stories to tell from this experience. So maybe she can concentrate on that for at least a little while.

NORRIS: Jane Gillis, Robert Gillis, thank you very much for coming in to talk to us.

Mr. GILLIS: Thank you.

Ms. GILLIS: Thank you.

NORRIS: Jane and Robert Gillis are the parents of Clare Gillis. She's a freelancer for USA Today and The Atlantic, and she's been detained in Libya for the past two weeks.

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