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US Student Released from Damascus

An American student released from a Damascus prison last Saturday says the Syrian government is unlikely to fall despite popular protests.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 4/6/2011, 11:02 AM / Last Update: 4/6/2011, 11:12 AM

An American student released from a Damascus prison last Saturday says the Syrian government is unlikely to fall despite popular protests.

Pathik “Tik” Root, 21, was studying Arabic at Damascus University two months after being evacuated from Egypt during the protests that toppled the 31-year regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.

In an interview broadcast Monday on CNN's “In the Arena program, the Ripton, Vermont resident said he was grabbed by police while watching an anti-government protest in the Syrian capital last month.

The government agents noticed the Middlebury College student using his BlackBerry smartphone at the time. They grabbed him and threw him into an SUV, he said, forcing his head onto the seat so he couldn't see where they were going. About five minutes later, he was hustled into a jail on Baghdad Street.

“They thought I was a CIA agent or a journalist,” Root said. “I don't know which would have been worse.”

Although he had been to both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, he said, “Luckily I was spared some of the physical violence because of my American passport.” That did not, however, entitle him to visits from the American Consul, nor did the Syrians allow him to contact U.S. authorities.

At times he was held in a 10 by 12-foot cell filled with between 15 to 22 men “of Syrian and Iraqi descent,” he said. Many were beaten and tortured with electric shocks.

The student was finally released last Friday, two weeks after his capture, following intensive diplomatic efforts. Included was a carefully worded speech on the Senate floor by U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT).

“The struggle of the Syrian people will be much harder and much more violent,” observed Root, than those of other countries in the region.