As of Friday, March 25, Tik Root ’12 has been missing for a week while studying abroad in Damascus, Syria. His last known contact with friends was March 18.
According to a Statehouse employee, on Thursday, March 24, the Vermont House of Representatives received notice that Root is currently being held by Syrian authorities for his involvement in a protest on Friday, March 18. A campus-wide email from President of the College Ronald D. Liebowitz, also on March 24, gave the same information to the College community : “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.”
Root was one of 22 students evacuated from the C.V. Starr-Middlebury School in the Middle East in Alexandria, Egypt on Jan. 31 during the protests against former President Hosni Mubarak. He told the Campus in a Feb. 11 article that he planned to return to the Middle East this semester if possible, and he began an independent study at Damascus University the week of March 13. Root’s father, Professor of Biology Tom Root, last heard from his son on March 16. He told the Burlington Free Press he had no information to suggest that Tik was involved in the demonstrations that occurred in cities all over Syria last Friday, including Damascus, but he also said it would be consistent with Tik’s general attitude to observe what was going on.
Tom Root contacted the State Department regarding his missing son earlier this week and the U.S. Bureau of Consular Affairs made inquiries at the Syrian Ministry of the Interior as to Tik Root’s status.
Syrian citizens began peaceful protests in the middle of February against the long-standing political regime. The Ba’ath party took power in Syria in 1963, banning political opposition and enforcing a state of emergency. Emergency law suspends most constitutional protections and authorizes the government to conduct precautionary and arbitrary arrests without arrest warrants. Suspects may then be detained for prolonged periods without charge, trial or access to lawyers. Representatives of the Syrian government told Sky News on Thursday that the government was considering lifting the state of emergency after a series of escalating, bloody protests beginning last week.
In his email, Liebowitz reassured the College community that “the College is doing everything it can to assist in the effort to locate Tik.”
Liebowitz also offered his support to Tik Root’s parents, Tom Root and Professor of Biology Andrea Lloyd, and promised to update the College community if circumstances change.
The College has created a web page where updates about Root will be posted, and Root’s friends created a Facebook group where other friends can show their support. Root’s parents, Root’s sister Radhika Root and Professor of Geography Tamar Mayer have also been posting updates on the Facebook group page.
Tom Root wrote in a letter on the Middlebury College web page that Root “is being held for unwarranted reasons by the Syrian Government in violation of the Geneva Protocols.” Syrian authorities told Root that if they are holding an American, it is “a misunderstanding.”
On Friday, March 25 at 7 a.m. EST, Tom Root heard from the U.S. Embassy in Damascus that several protesters who had been held as long as Tik Root were released, but Tik was not with them. Tom Root wrote in his letter, “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.”
The U.S. Embassy in Damascus, the State Department, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and House Representative Peter Welch (D-Vt.) are all aware of Tik Root’s status and working to bring about his release.
After initially keeping the situation as quiet as possible, Tom Root and Lloyd have since attempted to bring Tik’s case to the attention of as many helpful parties as possible. They have been interviewed by the Addison Independent, WCAX TV in Burlington, Vt., WBUR in Boston, Mass. and Eliot Spitzer on “CNN In The Arena.” Midd-Blog also has more frequently updated coverage.
Syrian authorities have located Tik Root and confirmed that he is “safe and well,” according to a statement from his father. Tom Root heard from Leahy and others on Saturday, March 26 that the Syrian Embassy had found Tik. They have not yet publicized when he will be released, only that “[Tik] remains in the hands of the Syrian authorities, who are currently responsible for him.”