US President Joe Biden signed an executive order on Tuesday that brings new punitive actions against foreign governments that unjustly imprisoned Americans and the order would also apply to hostage-takings in which the United States has a national interest.

“I hereby declare a national emergency to deal with this threat,” the US president said in his order, after declaring that hostage-taking and the wrongful detention of US nationals abroad “constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States”.

He said that those who indulge in such activities “threaten the integrity of the international political system and the safety of United States nationals and other persons abroad”.

The order authorises US government agencies to use financial sanctions and visa bans on both state and non-state actors as a tool to try to secure the release of detained Americans.

The new measure requires the US State Department to issue a detailed travel warning after a high-profile detention and creates a new ‘D category’ of warning for countries where there’s a risk of wrongful detentions of Americans by foreign governments.

This would apply to China — currently designated as Level 3 — and to five other countries that the State Department has designated as Level 4 — do not travel: Russia, Iran, Venezuela, Burma and North Korea.

A text issued by the White House says that order “applies to both suspected and confirmed hostage-takings in which a US national is abducted or held outside of the United States, as well as to other hostage-takings occurring abroad in which the United States has a national interest”. It, however, does not apply if a foreign government confirms that it has detained a US national.

The order also directs agencies to share information and intelligence with family members of people who have been taken hostage or detained. The US Secretary of State will implement this authority.

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