Update, 4/5/11: Personal Statement from Tik Root
I am absolutely overjoyed to be safely back in Vermont with family and friends. A fellow prisoner phrased it best when he told me that; "everything is more beautiful when you have freedom."
I would like to express my utmost gratitude to everyone who has kept me in their thoughts and prayers. I cannot even begin to express how much it meant to me to discover the outpouring after two weeks in the dark. To my friends, family, the media, and the many strangers who voiced their support through all imaginable mediums, I hope a heartfelt thank you will suffice for now.
Although there is a long list of those who deserve credit for my safe return, I would like to send a special thank you to the US Embassy in Damascus, Senator Patrick Leahy, the Syrian Ambassador to the United States Imad Moustapha and the Middlebury College community. It is reassuring to know that genuinely kind people exist all over the world, even within the Syrian regime.
Over the coming days I will relay my own experience as well as the stories of those I met in prison. My hope is to help create an understanding of the challenges that Arab people face, and not to sour anyone's view of the region. Arab culture is nothing short of amazing, and has much to teach us if we take the time to listen. Only through a better mutual understanding of each other's lives can we begin to address tensions and stereotypes coming from both sides of the globe.
The Middle East has a rich, history and culture but is currently being plagued by repressive regimes that are keeping their citizens from reaching their true potential. The importance of this moment in both regional and world history cannot be overstated. If a lasting change does sweep the region, the possibilities for good are endless, and the future bright. I offer my assistance, in any way useful, to Arabs who are peacefully fighting for the rights that we Americans enjoy everyday.
I want to draw immediate attention to one specific aspect of my detention: the details of the prison in which I was held. The following is what I have been able to ascertain with some confidence, despite being blindfolded during transportation and a lack of confirmation from Syrian officials.
The prison is located on Baghdad Street in Damascus and serves as a hub for the secret police (a division of the Syrian national security forces) and possibly a counter-terrorism group as well. Prisoners detained in this facility are generally kept for one to two weeks, and are often released on a Thursday night. This is especially true for people detained as protesters, without a camera or a criminal background. I share this information so that others are more informed than my family was, and so that families and friends of detainees can have at least a measure of hope.
To those still following my story, thank you for the continued support. For those still fighting in the Middle East, I hope that you win the rights that you deserve, but please stay as safe as possible.
Feel free to forward this e-mail to anyone who may be interested. Media requests should be directed to either email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org Unfortunately it will be physically impossible to accommodate all requests, but I truly appreciate the interest.
Update 4/4/11: Family thanks those who helped with Tik's release
The family of Tik Root issued the following statement on Sunday, April 3
By now, you are aware that our son Tik was released from Syrian custody and returned to us on Saturday, April 2. We wish to begin expressing our deep gratitude to the many people who contributed to his release, realizing we will never be fully able to do so.
To our friends, family, neighbors, and the countless strangers who offered moral support, good thoughts, prayers, food, phone calls, and solace: we would not have survived without the web of support that you wove.
Our gratitude is inestimable to Senator Patrick Leahy, who worked tirelessly over the last two weeks, along with the U.S. Ambassador to Syria, Richard Ford, and the Syrian Ambassador to the U.S., the honorable Imad Moustapha, to secure Tik's release . They worked closely with the staff of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus, in particular Mimi Asnes and Consul General Andre Goodfriend. You brought our son back, and we are forever in your debt.
The role of Middlebury College was pivotal, most notably the selfless work of President Ron Liebowitz, Tim Spears, Jeff Cason, and the entire staff of the Communications Office, all of whom rallied to Tik's cause immediately and have been steadfast in their efforts to help secure his release and support us.
Many people worked deep behind the scenes to directly win Tik's release and rarely received our public gratitude. We acknowledge two in particular. Frank Sesno was the calm, reasoned voice on the phone who talked us through the past two weeks, and we thrived on his thoughtful insights and advice. Dr. Bob Arnot has done more than we can possibly describe, and we thank him for the very specific and key roles he played and for his unwavering confidence in the imminent arrival of good news.
Together, these people acted immediately and professionally, giving their time and energy without hesitation. We ultimately return, though, to the incredible number of people around the world who know Tik, love him and who ultimately carried him home to us on their thoughts and shoulders.
Tik shares our gratitude for all of your efforts, and he will be releasing his own statement in the next few days.
Update, 4/3/11: Boston Globe Story on Tik Root's Return to U.S.
The parents of the 21-year-old Middlebury College junior from Ripton, Vt., who went to Syria to study Arabic, had no idea whether their son was alive. They spent the past two weeks making call after call to congressmen, senators, ambassadors — anyone who could help find their son and bring him home.
Yesterday, a week after Syrian officials acknowledged that Root had been taken into custody and after long negotiations to establish he wasn’t a CIA agent or some other covert operative, Root caught a flight from Damascus to London and then another to Logan International Airport. There, he emerged from customs about 7:15 p.m. with a beaming smile and fell into the arms of his parents.
Update 4/1/11, 1:07 p.m.: Statement by Middlebury President Ron Liebowitz
I want to express how very happy the Middlebury College community is that Tik Root '12 has been released to the U.S. Embassy in Damascus. Faculty, staff, and students have anxiously awaited news about Tik's status throughout the two-week period when he was first missing and then in Syrian custody. We are thrilled for his parents, Tom Root and Andi Lloyd, and their family now that they will be reunited, and we all look forward to seeing Tik when he returns to Vermont.
The College has received a great deal of support in its efforts to assist the family in obtaining Tik's release, and we are enormously grateful. I want to thank all three members of the Vermont Congressional Delegation: Rep. Peter Welch, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and Sen. Patrick Leahy. We are particularly appreciative of Sen. Leahy's many efforts, including a statement he made yesterday calling for Tik's release. The College would also like to acknowledge all the work of the U.S. Embassy in Damascus and the Syrian Embassy in Washington, D.C., especially Syrian Ambassador Imad Moustapha. We are indebted to many friends of the College who provided support and advice as well.
Update 4/1/11, 9:36 a.m.: Tik Root Released from Syrian Custody
Note from President Ron Liebowitz to the campus community at 9:36 a.m.:
To Middlebury Students, Faculty, and Staff,
We just received word from Tom Root and Andi Lloyd that Tik has been released in Damascus, and wanted to pass on the good news!
More information to come, but needless to say, what wonderful news, and best to hear it (with permission) from Tom and Andi.
UPDATE 3/31/11: SENATOR CALLS FOR STUDENT'S RELEASE
Tik Root, a U.S. citizen from Ripton, Vermont, and a member of the Middlebury Class of 2012, was studying in Damascus, Syria this spring in an Arabic program through Damascus University. He had been missing since Friday, March 18, but his family reported on Saturday, March 26, that he had been found "safe and well." Still, as of March 31, Root remained in Syrian custody, prompting a call from U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., for his release. See updates below.
In addition to this informational page, Middlebury students have started a Facebook page.
Update 3/31/11: Senator Leahy Calls for Tik Root's release
- A statement by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., on March 31. 2011.
Mr. President, I want to take a moment to say a few words about a situation in Syria that is of particular concern to me and people of my state.
Going on two weeks ago, a young Middlebury College student, Pathik “Tik” Root, disappeared in Damascus, Syria, where he was studying Arabic.
As anyone who is following recent events in Syria knows, there have been large public demonstrations, some of which have resulted in arrests and casualties.
Thanks to the efforts of U.S. Embassy Damascus and the Syrian Ambassador to the United States, Imad Moustapha, it was determined that Tik had been arrested and is being held in a Syrian jail.
By all accounts, it appears that Tik was arrested simply because he was taking photographs at one of the demonstrations.
As an avid photographer myself, I would hope that the Syrian Government recognizes the innocent conduct of a young, curious American student who is fascinated, as we all are, by the extraordinary events taking place across North Africa and the Middle East.
I and my staff have had multiple conversations with Tik’s father, with Ambassador Moustapha, with U.S. Ambassador Robert Ford, and other State Department officials about Tik’s situation.
We are optimistic that he will be released, because he was doing nothing wrong and at most he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
But so far, no one from the American consulate in Damascus has been allowed to see Tik, which is unacceptable. Our representatives in Damascus should be given immediate access to him – today – to ensure that he is in good health and being treated humanely.
I know I speak not only for myself but also for Senator Bernie Sanders and Congressman Peter Welch, in urging the Syrian authorities to release Tik and allow him to return home.
This is not a time to be confusing a young American college student with the popular forces that are calling for political change in Syria.
Tik is an innocent 21-year-old who poses no threat whatsoever to the Syrian Government, but his continued detention will only further complicate our already difficult relations with Syria.
Update 3/31/11: Local Friends of Student Counter Misperceptions
The Addison County, Vt., Independent
MIDDLEBURY — The national media has been abuzz with the story of Pathik “Tik” Root, a Middlebury College student who went missing two weeks ago while studying Arabic in Syria. Last weekend, Syrian authorities confirmed they had detained Ripton native, but have not said when they will release him.
But as they watch reports on Root’s disappearance roll out, his parents, friends and professors say there’s a side of the 21-year-old that has not been captured in any of those stories.
On campus in Middlebury, Tik Root is active in everything from skiing to climbing to student government. In his first year at the college, Root ran against a senior for president of the college’s Student Government Association, and has served as class senator and director of membership in the organization since then.
Update 3/26/11: Note from Tom Root (Tik's father)
We received some great news this morning from the Syrian Embassy and officials from Damascus, conveyed to me by Senator Leahy and others. Tik has been located, and we understand that he is safe and well. He remains in the hands of the Syrian authorities, who are currently responsible for him. We very much appreciate the efforts of Ambassador Imad Moustapha and Senator Leahy in continuing to work to bring this complex situation to a resolution. Just as soon as we have more concrete information to share, I will certainly let you know. But in the meantime please know how much we value everyone’s good wishes and hopes.
Tom Root (Tik's Father)
Update 3/25/11: Note from Tom Root (Tik's father)
Tik Root (Middlebury College '12), a U.S. Citizen and resident of Ripton, Vermont is being held for unwarranted reasons by the Syrian Government in violation of the Geneva Protocols. He has been missing for a week and is in the custody of Syrian officials. He was last seen on Friday, March 18, afternoon, near the site of one of the protests going on that day at the major mosque in the old city.
He was studying in Damascus, Syria this spring in an Arabic program through Damascus University,
We believe the police force rounded him up with several others on the periphery of the protest, not as part of the protest, a tactic apparently used in the past to clear out bystanders to bus in pro-government supporters.
On Wednesday March 23 (late night our time) we got confirmation that Syrian officials admitted that they were "quite certain" they had him in custody. However no American has been given access to him and there has been no word on his condition.
The Embassy in Damascus, our Vermont Congressional delegation (Leahy, Sanders and Welch), and the highest levels of the State Department are working very hard on this, but obviously have not brought his release.
Yesterday (Thursday, March 24) brought no news, not unusual in confinements of protesters, but very disheartening.
However, today (Friday March 25 at 7:00 A.M. our time) I heard from the U.S. Embassy in Damascus that while several protesters who were being held as long as Tik were released, he was not among them.
So it is unclear why the Syrian government refuses to act in his specific case, why they are resisting pressure from the embassy and why he has not already been released.
Tom Root (Tik's father)
Update 3/24/11: Message to Campus Community from President Ronald Liebowitz
To the College Community,
I write to inform you that one of our students, Tik Root ’12, is missing in Syria, where he has been studying at the University of Damascus. His last known communication with family or friends was on Friday, March 18.
According to Tik’s family, the U.S. State Department learned from the Syrian government that Tik is “almost certainly” being held by Syrian authorities. The College is doing everything it can to assist in the effort to locate Tik. At this point, no additional information is available but I will communicate further if events change.
I want to extend our support to Tik’s parents, Tom Root and Andi Lloyd, who are in our thoughts during this very difficult time. Everyone at the College is anxious to hear that Tik is safe, and we look forward to receiving word when his family hears more about his status.