Gathering to Support Detained Journalists

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OPC member and New York Director of Reporters Without Borders Tala Dowlatshahi i

OPC member and New York Director of Reporters Without Borders Tala Dowlatshahi interviews Tyler Hicks about the dangers of reporting. Photo: Mario Da Cunha

Global Post contributor James Foley, Clare Morgana Gillis, who has written for The Atlantic and USA Today, Manuel Varela, a Spanish photographer who works under the name Manu Brabo, and Nigel Chandler, a British freelance journalist, were picked up by el-Qaddafi forces on April 5 while reporting on the conflict near the eastern town of Brega, Libya.

To mark the 40th night of detention, Foley's family organized a gathering of journalists, family and supporters at The Half King in New York on May 15. The event was organized to bring his plight to the forefront and push for the safe return home of Foley and his colleagues.

Diane and John Foley, parents of James, and Jane and Robert Gillis, parents of Clare, were at the event along with New York Times journalist David Rohde, who was held captive by the Taliban for more than seven months in 2008-2009 and was detained in Bosnia in 1995, and New York Times journalist Tyler Hicks, who was held captive by el-Qaddafi forces in Libya for six days this past March. The program included video screenings of Foley's work in Afghanistan and Libya, readings, personal stories and music.

Sebastian Junger, writer and co-owner of The Half King, donated space for the event, calling the journalists' situation "heartbreaking." Junger shared an Academy Award nomination for the documentary "Restrepo" with his co-director Tim Hetherington, a photojournalist who was killed in Libya on April 20.

"You are seen as targets. They have fantastic theories that we can command huge ransoms and are working for the CIA," said Rohde, and added that the Taliban pay attention to social media and research journalists carefully. Rohde recommends that journalists on assignment ask their editor what they'll do if you're taken hostage and said to not sell yourself short.

"This wasn't a mistake on his part," Hicks said. "It happened as a result of him having a passion for what he does, to put his personal safety aside. It's a serious commitment. Every time you go down a road in Libya and Afghanistan, there's a risk you won't come back.

"As a freelancer, you follow the same guidelines that any staffer would follow. Find some organization that will give you some sort of support. What you don't want to do is go in without any cover. Hicks called events like these "sustaining" for those journalists who are imprisoned.

Clare's father Robert said, "It takes people of courage to report on how people who have nothing immediately to gain invest in something greater than themselves."

"These events quite frankly keep the family upright," said Mike Foley, brother of James Foley. "When their plane touches down, that is success." The four journalists were released on May 19.

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