Families of Americans still detained abroad press for more help

By Thomson Reuters Mar 8, 2024 | 10:58 AM

By Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Some families of Americans detained abroad said on Friday that the U.S. government can be an obstacle as they battle to secure the release of loved ones, despite a series of prisoner swaps for detained U.S. citizens agreed by the Biden administration.

A group of families said they would stage a sit-in in front of the White House later on Friday, saying their appeals to meet President Joe Biden had gone unanswered.

In an event at the State Department, Harrison Li, son of American-Chinese citizen Kai Li, held by China since 2016 on espionage charges that he denies, said he has asked to see Biden “dozens and dozens of times.”

“Honestly one of the biggest obstacles we see in our fight to free our loved ones is our own government,” Li said.

Li said meeting with Biden would at least signal that the case was a major priority for the administration.

The State Department was hosting Li and other family members — including Maryam Kamalmaz, daughter of Majd Kamalmaz, who has been detained in Syria since 2017 — ahead of National Hostage and Wrongful Detainee Day on Saturday, and raised a flag for detainees.

“I want you to know the United States government is with you and we will work tirelessly until you’re reunited with your loved ones,” Deputy Secretary of State Kurt Campbell said.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In Thursday’s State of the Union address, Biden promised to “work around the clock” to bring home Americans unjustly detained abroad, but only named Paul Whelan and Evan Gershkovich, both held by Russia.

Biden has conducted prisoner swaps for two other Americans detained by Russia including WNBA star Brittney Griner, in September secured the released of five Americans imprisoned in Iran, and in December won the release in a swap of 10 Americans held in Venezuela.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; Editing by Kevin Liffey)