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Syria Detains Egyptian American Accused of Spying, Refuses to Release Details of Charges Against Mohamed Radwan

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The death toll in Syria since protests erupted 10 days ago has passed 60, and according to some estimates, more than 280 people have been arrested, including an Egyptian American engineer named Mohamed Radwan. On Friday, Syrian state television aired what it called a “confession” by Radwan, in which he says he visited Israel in secret and took money in exchange for providing photographs and video about Syria. Radwan’s family says the statement is false and must have resulted from coercion. We play an excerpt from an interview in February with Radwan while he participated in protests in Egypt, and we speak to his brother Tarek Radwan in Washington, D.C. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn to Syria, where state forces continue a brutal crackdown. On Monday, Syrian forces fired tear gas, live ammunition into a crowd of hundreds in the town of Daraa. More than 60 people have died since protests erupted there 10 days ago. The demonstrations have also spread to Latakia and Hama. According to some estimates, over 280 people have been arrested.

The detained include Egyptian American engineer named Mohamed Radwan. Syrian state television has aired what it called a confession by Radwan in which he says he visited Israel in secret and took money in exchange for providing photographs and video about Syria. Radwan’s family says the statement is false, it must have resulted from coercion.

Democracy Now!'s Sharif Abdel Kouddous spoke to Radwan back on February 1st, when he was in Egypt participating in the first day of the first million people march on Cairo's Tahrir Square. This is Mohamed Radwan.

MOHAMED RADWAN: My name is Mohamed Radwan. My family is from Cairo, Egypt. I’ve been living abroad for many years, and now I’m living in Damascus, Syria. And I got here Friday morning. I woke up, read the news, and I realized Friday there’s going to be a lot of, well, activity, and I don’t want to miss out on that, so I went and got a ticket. And I got here Friday morning and — to join the events on Friday afternoon.

I lived in the States. And, you know, there’s a lot of political awareness since 2001 or 2002, when the war started and everything. Back then, before, pre-2001, there wasn’t too much thought about the political — anyone’s political identity. Well, here, people are always politically aware. They always have a political opinion. But everyone was so jaded. And seeing this, all of a sudden everyone is politically charged. Everyone’s got an opinion. Everyone wants to see change.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mohamed Radwan speaking in Tahrir Square to Democracy Now!'s Sharif Abdel Kouddous. Now Mohamed Radwan's father has traveled to Syria in a bid to win his son’s release. There’s no word he’ll be set free. We’re joined in Washington by Mohamed’s brother Tarek.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Tell us the latest that you know about your brother.

TAREK RADWAN: Thank you for having me, Amy.

Yes, my father has traveled to Syria. He’s been there since the day before yesterday. And he’s been meeting with government officials from both the U.S. side and the Egyptian side. He has met with the Egyptian ambassador and some of his staff. They have sent requests, formal requests, to the Syrian authorities, requesting information, whereabouts, charges, if any, that are lodged against Mohamed. But so far, none of those requests have been answered.

When he went to go visit the United States embassy in Damascus, he was stopped by Syrian secret police. And they asked him to go with them, if he wanted to know any information about Mohamed. Weighing the risks, he decided to go. And they seated him down and asked him to write a formal petition that included a brief life summary and the circumstances on how Mohamed ended up in Damascus. Unfortunately, after that, after he finished writing that petition, there was no information given to him, and they refused to give his whereabouts.

AMY GOODMAN: Your dad has a business there? That’s what Mohamed Radwan was doing in Syria?

TAREK RADWAN: That’s correct. My brother has been working for my father’s company as an engineer and office manager in Syria for over nine months now.

AMY GOODMAN: This is an excerpt of your brother Mohamed’s so-called confession that was aired on Syrian state television.

MOHAMED RADWAN: [translated] There were people from the outside of the country who corresponded with me and asked me about the situation. So one day I received an email, and it said, “Are you prepared to help someone who speaks Spanish?”

AMY GOODMAN: Can you explain what that was, Tarek?

TAREK RADWAN: Sure. My brother, he’s an avid traveler. He’s traveled extensively throughout South America, and it’s not unusual that he would make friends there. If he was indeed in contact with someone from there, it’s no surprise. I understand that the so-called confession was about selling pictures to this person. My brother, as you saw, is a very politically conscious person, and I don’t think that he would take any money if someone requested pictures of what was happening. But he’s also been very conscious to remain neutral about what’s been going on in Syria. He knows he’s not Syrian. He knows this is a Syrian struggle that they have to sort out for themselves. And he also doesn’t want to jeopardize my father’s business in Damascus.

AMY GOODMAN: He went to Tahrir Square in Egypt, though, to participate, is that right? He’s Egyptian American. You’re Egyptian American.

TAREK RADWAN: That is correct. We were both born in the U.S. Our family is Egyptian, and we travel back there frequently. And as part-Egyptian identity, we felt very strongly about what was happening in Egypt. And I wish I had gone. However, the Syrian situation is quite different.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what are you calling for right now? I know there’s organizing going on in Egypt. Your dad is in Syria. What do you need to happen now, and what is the U.S. doing?

TAREK RADWAN: Well, the U.S. has been actually very, very helpful, very supportive, in sending out formal requests to the Syrian authorities. But as of yet, he remains in incommunicado detention, and the Syrians are refusing to work with the Americans despite their efforts. And they said that they would be in touch through the Egyptian foreign ministry; however, as of yet, there remains no information.

My father will continue pushing the diplomatic side in Syria, while my mother, in Egypt, hopefully will try and get the Arab League on board to push for his release. I know my cousins are working very strong through social media, galvanizing support. They’re organizing a protest outside of the Syrian embassy in Cairo on Wednesday. And here in D.C., I will attempt to meet with the Syrian ambassador. I’ve already reached out to former colleagues at Human Rights Watch. Friends have reached out to Amnesty International. And we’re also going through — trying to contact other international organizations to increase the pressure, increase the political cost to the Syrians for holding him.

AMY GOODMAN: Tarek Radwan, thanks very much for being with us. And we will continue to track what happens to your brother, Mohamed Radwan, now in custody by Syrian forces.

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