When you are in a foreign country you are subject to its laws and American officials are limited as to how they can assist you. They cannot, for instance, represent you in legal proceedings or pay your legal fees or other expenses. They can, however, provide a list of attorneys, assist in contacting your family in the U.S., help you obtain money from family in the U.S., and monitor your health/welfare and conditions in which you are being held.
If arrested abroad, an American citizen must go through the host country’s legal process for being charged or indicted, prosecuted, possibly convicted and sentenced, and any appeals process. Within this framework, U.S. consular officers provide a variety of services to U.S. citizens arrested abroad and their families. We monitor conditions in foreign prisons and, upon request, will protest allegations of abuse against U.S. citizen prisoners. We work with prison officials to ensure that treatment is consistent with internationally recognized standards of human rights and that Americans are afforded due process under local laws.
If you are arrested, immediately ask to speak to a consular officer at the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. Under international agreements, the U.S. Government has a right to provide consular assistance to you upon your request. If your request to speak to your consul is denied, keep asking—politely, but persistently. For information on how consuls assist American arrestees, see here.
Privacy Act – The provisions of the Privacy Act are designed to protect the privacy and rights of Americans, but occasionally they complicate our efforts to assist citizens abroad. As a rule, consular officers may not reveal information regarding an individual American’s location, welfare, intentions, or problems to anyone, including family members and Congressional representatives, without the express consent of that individual. Although sympathetic to the distress this can cause concerned families, consular officers must comply with the provisions of the Privacy Act.
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