03.31.11

Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Tik Root

Mr. LEAHY.  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. 

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