Biden signed an executive order on Americans held hostage abroad

Biden signed an executive order on Americans held hostage or unjustly held abroad.

Building on the 2020 Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage Taking Act, the new executive order will bolster the U.S. government's efforts to support families of Americans held or held hostage abroad, according to the White House.

The White House said the order would allow the federal government to impose financial penalties on those involved in the unlawful detention of Americans abroad. Furthermore, government agencies will be directed to better engage with the families of these Americans, including sharing intelligence about their loved ones and government efforts to free them. The White House said the order would task experts across agencies with developing "options and strategies to deter future hostage-takings."

Another senior administration official told reporters that as of Tuesday, the first countries to receive this additional risk index would be China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia, and Venezuela. The "D" index joins the existing "K" index that covers the risks of kidnapping and hostage-taking by non-state actors, as well as a host of other current risk indicators.

China's "D" rating could provoke outrage in Beijing, where Chinese officials have primarily tried to sidestep the topic of illegal arrests and where Western sanctions are the constant motivator.

Experts estimate that nearly 200 Americans are arbitrarily imprisoned in China, and more are subject to an illegal "exit ban," preventing them from leaving the country. Some advocates have pushed the Biden administration to take a more straightforward approach to secure their freedom rather than the usual behind-the-scenes diplomacy. But the State Department recently tried a similar strategy - updating its official guidance to Americans and instructing them to reconsider travel plans to China due to "arbitrary application of local laws."

And Syria, with which the United States does not have formal diplomatic relations, will be markedly excluded from the "D" risk rating on Tuesday. U.S. officials believe that while the Syrian government may not currently hold American journalist Austin Tice, it may have valuable information about his whereabouts and possibly other missing Americans. Tice, 40, was kidnapped in Syria nearly ten years ago.

The White House recently called relatives of detained Americans to share information about these new announcements. According to Jonathan Franks, a spokesperson for many families, some are in Washington, D.C., this week to unveil a public mural depicting loved ones.

The mural in Washington's Georgetown neighborhood will depict the faces of 18 American hostages and illegal detainees, according to Franks, who represents a group called The Bringing Our Families Home Campaign. Those shown include NBA star Britney Greiner, 31, former US Marine Paul Whelan, 52, both still detained in Russia, and U.S. permanent resident Paul Rossapgina, 68, who inspired the 2004 film. The famous "Hotel Rwanda" was sentenced last September to 25 years in prison in Rwanda on terrorism charges.

"As part of our regular communications with families of those held hostage or unjustly detained, we invited them to hear about the new policy efforts we are launching to help bring their loved ones home," the spokesperson said. "We wanted to share the information with families before making it public, which families deserve."

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