Arrested abroad? Who to call first

PRI-00022According to the U.S. State Department, more than 2,500 Americans are arrested abroad annually.  Each country has different rules and systems for handling arrested persons.  Some countries follow their laws closely, others do not.  PRI provides information on different country laws and how they are applied.

But who do you call first if you are a U.S. citizen detained abroad?  Assuming you get a phone call or two (we hope that you do), here are some basic guidelines on how to let others know of your situation:

  1. Tell the U.S. Department of State.  Their American Citizen Services representatives can visit you or try to help you get legal counsel.  If you don’t get a phone call, at least ask the prison officials to notify the U.S. Embassy or Consulate immediately that you are in jail.  The State Department will probably not provide you with any legal advice or try to get you out of jail, but at least they will be able to provide information to your family if contacted and they may also be able to assist you if the prison conditions are poor.  They may also be able to help you find a lawyer.  We have found that the State Department will not be especially interested in the merits of your case or the charges against you – focus on having the State Department help get your basic needs met.  You may find an officer with a sympathetic ear, but it is unlikely he or she will actually assist in proving your innocence.
  2. Call your family or close friends.  Someone you know will help advocate for you.  Ask them to begin searching for local criminal attorneys who speak English.
    • Tell them about any bad conditions at the prison.  Do you have medical care?  Are the cells too crowded?  Do you have enough food and water?  Can you observe your religion?  Have you made contact with the U.S. Embassy or Consulate?
  3. Find a local lawyer.  Share all the details of your arrest and begin planning your defense.
  4. Call your congressional representative.  State and federal senators and representatives may be able to follow your case.
  5. Alert your local newspaper from your home state.  Get people involved from your local community.  This may raise attention to your case.
  6. Contact PRI by sharing your story here.  Look for local organizations that might help through Internet searches and on our Country Profiles.

Remember: You always have basic human rights!  To learn more about those rights, click here.