On Tuesday, July 19, President Joe Biden signed an executive order that weighs sanctions on terrorists, criminals, or even governments that have wrongfully detained US nationals traveling abroad. The order also calls for maximizing the flow of information to the families of those who are being detained.
According to Forbes, one of the most significant motivators behind this executive action is Brittney Griner’s confinement in Russia. Griner, a WNBA star who plays for the Phoenix Mercury team, has been detained in Russia since February for illegally bringing cannabis into the country. She had pleaded guilty to the charges, but a trial is still underway. If convicted, the gold medal athlete faces up to ten years in a Russian prison.
President Biden has received backlash from Griner’s family, feeling he has not done enough to facilitate her release and return her safely to the United States. WNBA executive director Terri Jackson said to Trevor Noah in an interview on Monday, “We need President Biden to do everything he can to bring Brittney home.”
Per the AP, the executive order is based on the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act. Named after a retired FBI agent who disappeared in Iran 15 years ago, this law establishes procedures that must be implemented when an American citizen is wrongly detained. The main points of this presidential action are to allow the United States to impose financial sanctions or visa bans on entities that are wrongfully detaining Americans, to share “consistent information” with the families of the victims from the government, and to introduce the State Department’s new travel risk indicator. This gauge warns Americans about traveling to nations where they face an increased risk of being detained. The list of countries includes China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, and Russia.
The State Department already utilizes travel risk indicators for categories like kidnapping, crime, and health issues. The concern of detention joins these risks and will be marked with a “D.” Later this week, families of those being wrongfully held abroad will gather in Washington DC as a mural is unveiled to honor the detainees.