Egyptian-American Blogger Held In Syria Released

Renee Montagne talks with Mohamed Radwan, an Egyptian-American blogger who was released Friday after being held for several days by Syrian authorities and forced to confess to being an Israeli spy. Radwan was picked up and detained at a public protest at a mosque in Damascus.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.

An Egyptian-American is free from custody in Syria after spending nearly a week in Syrian hands. He was detained after taking photos of protesters in Syria's capital, Damascus. Mohamed Radwan is an engineer whose parents are Egyptian. He was born in Texas and got his degree at Texas A&M. He'd been working in Syria for the past nine months, but had traveled to Egypt to witness the Tahrir Square uprisings.

Mohamed Radwan is now back in Cairo, and he joined us to talk about his experience.

Good morning.

Mr. MOHAMED RADWAN: Good morning. Thanks for having me.

MONTAGNE: You were at a demonstration at the main mosque in Syria's capital, I gather, when you were detained. What exactly what were doing? I know, photographing, but what else?

Mr. RADWAN: That's correct. It was the Friday prayer and I was the main Umayyad Mosque. And, well, all of a sudden people had gotten up and there was a little bit of commotion. And so automatically - I think it's standard now - people just instinctively just pulled out their mobile phones and camera phones and started taking pictures. I did the same thing. And as people kind of moved out to the outside area in the mosque, I started tweeting about the whole commotion. And it's at this point that an official walked up to me and started asking me what I was doing.

MONTAGNE: And, at what point did they grab you?

Mr. RADWAN: Well, it was at that instant where my - I mean, my response was that I was writing a message. And they asked me if any Internet was involved. And I said it was just a message to a friend. And they excused me over to, you know, a side. And they said, well, you're going to have to come with us, basically.

MONTAGNE: What were the conditions that you were held in?

Mr. RADWAN: I was held under quite reasonable conditions, especially given their reputation. I was in a holding cell. The first few days I had a roommate. And the following - the last few days I was by myself. But the conditions were surprisingly comfortable. And at one point they got really friendly and started offering me tea and I got to shower and I got my breakfast, lunch and dinner. So I started thinking, you know, maybe word had gotten out.

MONTAGNE; The Syrian government never did charge you with any crime, but they did accuse you of being a spy for Israel saying that you had sold photos and videos of the protests, you visited Israel, which is a crime in Syria. There have been accounts of your interrogation and supposed confession on Syrian state television. What about all of that?

Mr. RADWAN: You know, there was never actually an accusation of spying. What I think happened was they - during the video that everyone saw they tried to shape the video in order for people to make that insinuation on their own. However, there's no accusation of actually spying for Israel. You know...

MONTAGNE: And the video, though, is what you - where you were shown on Syrian state television?

Mr. RADWAN: That's correct. The video that they had aired on Saturday night, I believe, asking me a bunch of questions of a trip to Israel, which actually did not happen. I've never been to Israel before, or Palestine.

MONTAGNE: Why do you think you were released?

Mr. RADWAN: I think there is a lot of diplomatic pressure. I think there's a lot of - from both sides, from the U.S. side and from the Egyptian side. I think there is a lot of online activism that pushed international media and pushed my story to the forefront.

MONTAGNE: What is next for you? Will you go back to your job in Syria and will you continue to tweet about the protest movement?

Mr. RADWAN: You know, at this point I feel like I'm going to take, you know, a little bit of time off and spend some time with my family. And any return to Syria is probably - I'm just not really even thinking about it right now.

As far as tweeting, I will definitely be tweeting.

MONTAGNE: Mohamed Radwan is an Egyptian-American who was detained by Syrian authorities for a week and released last Friday. He spoke to us from Cairo.

Thanks very much.

Mr. RADWAN: Thank you.

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