Medill alum detained in Libya could be granted phone call home

Sean Lavery

A moment of relief came to the Foley household Thursday after news of a possible phone call from detained journalist James Foley (MSJ ’08) reached his mother. The phone call would mark the first contact made in more than 17 days, when he and several colleagues were captured by pro-Gadhafi forces in Libya.

Diane Foley said she could not speak for very long since she was expecting James to call her phone at any moment.

“This is a first step, and we’re very hopeful,” she said. “That’s all it is though: a first step. But it’s good news.”

James’ colleague, Harvard University alumna Clare Gillis, was able to call home for 15 minutes Thursday morning. She reported that she, along with James Foley and Spanish photographer Manuel Bravo, had been captured outside the city of Brega on April 5. The three journalists were then moved to the city of Surte before being taken to Tripoli. Gillis said she communicated with the other captured journalists between cells by speaking through hollowed-out electrical outlets, according to The Atlantic.

Ellen Shearer, Medill professor and director of the Medill Washington Program, said she had her “fingers crossed” that James would be allowed a similar call.

“It was terrific that Ms. Gillis was able to make a phone call,” she said. “It shows that they’re there, and that Libyan authorities realize that attention is being paid.”

Gillis said, despite earlier reports, photographer Anton Hammerl had not been traveling with the group of journalists at the time of capture, leaving his whereabouts in question.

University President Morton Schapiro said in an email he was still looking into options for the University to aid in James’ release.

“I am checking around, but no luck so far,” he said. “I will continue to see if we can do anything.”

Harvard spokesman Kevin Galvin told The Harvard Crimson that several school officials had been advocating for Gillis’ release.

“We are closely following the news regarding Dr. Gillis,” he said in an email. “Harvard officials have been in direct contact with the State Department to register our concern about her detention, and we support the U.S. government’s call for her release.”

Northwestern spokesman Al Cubbage said no effort has been made by the University to contact the U.S. State Department on Foley’s behalf.

Shearer said many Medill faculty were actively supporting the journalists’ release, with some signing online petitions to show support.

“I think, certainly, the Medill faculty is aware of how serious it is,” she said. “I think the University is probably doing what it thinks can be done.”

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