State Department will warn Americans of countries where they may be wrongfully detained

A senior Biden administration official says the order ‘is once again demonstrating that [Mr Biden’s] commitment to bring home US Nationals held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad’

Andrew Feinberg
Washington, DC
Tuesday 19 July 2022 14:01 BST
Brittney Griner was detained in Russia
Brittney Griner was detained in Russia (AP)

The State Department will add a risk indicator to its travel advisories which will address whether Americans who travel to a given country could be wrongfully detained by a foreign government as part of a series of actions authorised by a new executive order on bringing home Americans who are being held hostage or under wrongful detention abroad.

According to a senior administration official, the new “D” risk indicator will “warn Americans of risks they may face in traveling to particular destinations” and “inform American travellers of the risk of wrongful detention by a foreign government” by “highlight[ing] the elevated risk that Americans face in particular countries and provid[ing] Americans with comprehensive safety and security information to use in making informed travel decisions”.

The first countries to receive a “D” travel advisory indicator will be Myanmar, the People's Republic of China, Iran, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Venezuela, and Russia, where US officials have been working to free several Americans who’ve been detained there, including WNBA star and former US Olympian Brittney Griner.

Officials said new executive order, which is called “Bolstering Efforts to Bring Hostages and Wrongfully Detained United States Nationals Home” and was signed by President Joe Biden on Tuesday, also “expands the tools available to deter and disrupt hostage-taking and wrongful detentions” and “creates new ways to impose costs on terrorist organizations, criminal groups, and other malicious actors who take hostages for financial, political, or other gains”.

A Biden administration official said the order, which also establishes new classes of sanctions that can be used in the event that a foreign government wrongfully detains an American citizen, shows that Mr Biden “is once again demonstrating that his commitment to bring home US Nationals held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad”.

The new executive order comes after weeks of tensions between the Biden administration and the families of a pair of Americans who’ve been classified as wrongfully detained in Russia: Ms Griner and Paul Whelan.

The WNBA star, who recently pleaded guilty to charges that she illegally possessed vaporiser cartridges containing cannabis oil, grew so frustrated with the Biden administration’s apparent lack of effort to free her that she penned a letter to Mr Biden expressing her concerns from her Russian jail cell. Her wife also went on a media tour to complain that the Biden administration was not, in her view, prioritising the case.

After Mr Biden responded by replying with a letter of his own and calling Ms Griner’s wife, Mr Whelan’s family lashed out and asked why they were not getting the same response.

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