A resolution from two Texas senators has been introduced to demand the release of jailed American student Mark Swidan, who has been detained in Syria since 2015. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn previously urged the US State Department to step up efforts to secure the release of the Austin native in January. Swidan was arrested by Syrian authorities while studying Arabic in Damascus and is among a group of Americans believed to be held in the country, the latter including journalist Austin Tice and Syrian-American psychotherapist Majd Kamalmaz.
Swidan is one of several Americans currently being held in Syria, which has been gripped by civil war since 2011. As part of their efforts, Cruz and Cornyn have described Swidan’s detention as a “grave injustice” and have highlighted that he has not been afforded access to legal representation. Currently, it remains unclear where Swidan is being detained and under what conditions. The senators’ resolution reportedly asks the Syrian government to immediately release Swidan and the other detained Americans.
It’s believed that Swidan was arrested in 2015 in Syria’s capital city of Damascus, where he was studying Arabic. Swidan’s sister, Sarah Swidan, has been leading an online campaign to try and secure her brother’s release. She described the latest efforts of the senators as “historic”, adding “I just can’t explain what this means to us, to our family”. Cruz and Cornyn’s resolution has been praised by Swidan’s family who have stated that the continued detention of their son has caused them significant emotional distress.
Swidan’s case is not an isolated one. Multiple governments maintain detention facilities on Syrian soil, with some of the detaining authorities accused of human rights abuses. Denmark, France, Germany and Britain have been singled out in reports for complicity in the detention and torture of Syrian nationals. The US has been accused of operating two secret detention facilities in Syria – Camp Bucca in Iraq and Saydnaya in Syria. The resolution from Cruz and Cornyn comes after a United Nations report expressed concern over the fate of civilians held in detention by all sides in Syria’s civil war. The report stated that tens of thousands of individuals have disappeared without trace since the start of the conflict in 2011.