Georgetown University students and other activists rallied outside the White House Monday evening to urge freedom for journalist Austin Tice, a graduate of the university who went missing in Syria in 2012 and is believed to be captive in the Middle East.
The group of about 15 demonstrators wore black blindfolds imprinted with the hashtag #FREEAUSTINTICE and held placards with messages for President Obama. “We are counting on you,” one said. Another: “Without journalists, we are all deprived of information, we are all blindfolded.”
Tice, who earned a bachelor’s degree in international politics in 2002 from Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service, was a law student at Georgetown when he decided to work as a freelance journalist covering the Syrian conflict. His work appeared in The Washington Post and other outlets before he disappeared in August 2012, just after his 31st birthday.
Supporters of Tice are pushing to spotlight his plight as diplomats from the United States and elsewhere seek to broker peace in war-ravaged Syria.
His parents, Debra and Marc Tice, of Houston, visited Georgetown this month to speak at a forum on his behalf. They urged students and others on campus to help the cause. Monday’s rally grew out of that forum.
“It’s really important that we don’t forget him,” said Barbara Feinman Todd, a Georgetown journalism professor. Todd said that there is much at stake in Tice’s case.
“It’s not only about one person,” Todd said. “It’s about free speech and about journalists being able to go and get the stories” without fear for their lives.
Emily Kaye, 20, a sophomore from New York, said she hopes the university community can become a base of support for an alumnus who was seeking to tell the world the urgent stories of the war.
“Georgetown students owe him to devote a couple hours of their day, when he’s devoting his life to this amazing cause,” Kaye said.
“He’s also a Hoya,” said Katherine Leopold, 19, of New Jersey, another sophomore who came to the rally. “That’s incredibly important. He’s part of our family.”
There has been scant public information about Tice since a video emerged in September 2012 that showed him being held by unidentified armed men.
Recently the Syrian government released another U.S. citizen, Kevin Patrick Dawes, who had been detained in the country for three years. Syrian Deputy Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, in an interview last week with the Associated Press, described the Dawes release as a “humanitarian initiative” at the request of “our friends in Moscow.”
Mekdad also told AP that the Syrian government has informed U.S. officials that Tice is not in Syria. “Austin Tice is not in the hands of Syrian authorities and we don’t have any information about him at all,” Mekdad told AP.
But U.S. officials said they remain actively engaged in seeking answers on Tice through contacts in Syria.
“We continue to work through our Czech protecting power in Syria to get information on the welfare and whereabouts of Austin Tice and other U.S. citizens missing and detained in Syria,” a White House spokesman told The Post.
In 2013, Tice was honored for his war reporting as part of a McClatchy Newspapers team that won a George Polk Award for coverage of the conflict in Syria. A native of Texas, Tice is the eldest of seven children in his family. He also served in the Marine Corps, according to a family website.
David Nakamura contributed to this report.