US citizen describes harrowing days in Syrian prison

Pathik "Tik" Root was accused of being either a CIA agent or a journalist.

Last Updated: Apr 07, 2011, 11:58 AM IST

Washington: A US college student detained for 15 days by Syrian security forces said he was denied all outside communication and "had no idea if anyone knew where I was”.

Pathik "Tik" Root, a 21-year-old US citizen, told CNN in an interview on Monday that he spent nearly half the time confined to a small cell packed with 22 other detainees. He was released on Friday.

"Luckily, I was spared physical violence because, I think, because of my American passport and because they wanted to put me on TV at one point," Root said.

He described his cellmates as being of Syrian and Iraqi descent, and said many of them "were beaten so brutally. One person`s foot was beaten until their toenail fell off”.

"There were brutal interactions between the guards and the prisoners including electrocution and who knows what else," he added.

Syria, like many countries in the Middle East, has been roiled by political unrest in recent weeks.

President Bashar al-Assad is facing unprecedented pressure for his 11-year rule as protesters demand greater freedoms and test his family`s four-decade grip on power.

Activists estimate more than 130 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, mainly in Daraa and Latakia. Officials put the death toll at closer to 30.

Root said he was arrested in Damascus because security forces "saw me with my Blackberry out about 100 yards from what ended up being a protest. I wasn`t sure what it was at that point."

The Middlebury College student said he was held because his passport showed he had visited Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. He was interrogated several times and accused of being either a CIA agent or a journalist.

"They told me I had broken Syrian law," he said. "I didn`t really have the guts to ask them which law I broke and I don`t think it mattered which is law I broke.”

"And that was literally all the information I had," he continued. "I didn`t know if my dad knew or the US government knew. I had no idea if anyone knew where I was."

The US State Department confirmed on March 29 that three Americans had been arrested in Damascus in the preceding days. It said one of the three had been released, and that US embassy staff were denied access to the other two.

Tom Root said he had been frantically working to locate and free his son. He credited US Senator Patrick Leahy, US Ambassador to Libya Richard Ford and Syrian Ambassador to the US Imad Moustapha for helping secure his son`s release.

Bureau Report