Iran offers no word on missing Al-Jazeera reporter

May 17, 2011 - 5:58 AM

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran said Tuesday that a missing Al-Jazeera reporter attempted to enter Syria last month with an expired Iranian passport and without proper press clearance, but offered no details on whether she is being held in Iran.

The comments by Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, were the first public remarks by an Iranian official about Dorothy Parvaz, who was last seen leaving Qatar on April 29 for Damascus to cover the country's anti-governing uprising. Syrian authorities said Parvaz was sent to Iran shortly after her arrival, but her whereabouts remain unknown.

Al-Jazeera and international press groups have appealed for information on the Iranian-born Parvaz, who also holds American and Canadian citizenships, and say her case highlights the intense pressures on journalists by regimes facing pro-reform revolts across the Arab world. In Syria, the government of President Bashar Assad has banned most outside journalists and placed strict controls on the few media outlets remaining in the country.

Mehmanparast told reporters that Parvaz committed "violations" by trying to enter Syria with an expired Iranian passport and "planned to work without a press permit and had several passports on her."

It's unclear what rules could be broken by traveling with multiple valid passports, but Mehmanparast reiterated that Iran does not recognize multiple nationalities for Iranians. Iranians do not need advance visas to enter Syria.

Mehmanparast did not specifically address whether the whereabouts of the 39-year-old Parvaz. He said the Foreign Ministry was "following the issue to find out what happened to Parvaz, which is important to us, too."

On May 11, Syria said Parvaz had been deported to Tehran following her detention in Damascus.

A statement by Qatar-based Al-Jazeera urged Iranian authorities to provide details on Parvaz, who works for the news network's English-language channel. The network said it is "deeply concerned" for Parvaz's welfare.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said about 20 local and international journalists have been assaulted or detained in Syria or expelled from the country since the protests against Assad broke out in March.

Two Associated Press journalists were expelled from the country with 45 minutes' notice. Five Reuters journalists also faced detention and intimidation, including one who was expelled by Syrian authorities on March 25 after five years as the agency's correspondent in Damascus.

On Monday, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders urged Iran to clarify whether Parvaz is in custody.