Biden imposes sanctions in connection with the intensification of efforts against detainees in the United States



President Joe Biden on Tuesday opened the way to sanctions against governments that unfairly imprison Americans and ordered more detailed travel warnings after a series of high-profile detentions.

Biden signed an executive order to expand the toolbox for the United States. government as he seeks to free citizens abroad.

The move comes after widespread media coverage of basketball star Britney Griner’s drug-related detention in Russia, whose wife initially said Biden wasn’t doing enough.

The executive order authorizes government agencies to impose financial sanctions or a travel ban on foreign officials or non-state actors involved in the unjust detention of Americans.

“The application of sanctions may not always help secure someone’s release, so we will use these powers wisely and strategically,” a U.S. official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

“But the families of the detainees know best the case(s) of their loved ones, and we intend to hear from them, hear their good ideas and listen to their recommendations,” he said.

The State Department, in its travel advisories for Americans, will also begin to highlight which countries are at increased risk of unfair detention.

China, Iran, Myanmar, North Korea, Russia and Venezuela will be the initial group of countries to be rated “D” for risk of detention, another official said.

Successive administrations have made the plight of prisoners and hostages a top priority.

Despite rising tensions over the war in Ukraine, the Biden administration agreed in April with Russia to trade Trevor Reid, a former Marine imprisoned for an alleged drunken attack on police, for a Russian pilot convicted of drug smuggling.

In Iran, the Biden administration insists it cannot restart the long-drawn-out nuclear deal without the release of imprisoned Americans.

One of them, Siamak Namazi, a businessman convicted on charges he denies of seeking to overthrow the clerical state, recently stepped out of prison and called on Biden to secure his freedom despite nuclear diplomacy.

At least 11 Americans are known to be in Venezuelan custody, although two others were released in March after rare US contacts with President Nicolas Maduro, a leftist leader whom Washington considers illegitimate.