Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a warning Wednesday to countries where U.S. citizens are being wrongfully imprisoned during the ongoing global coronavirus pandemic.
“If you are wrongfully detaining Americans during this time, and they become infected and die of coronavirus, we will hold your government strictly responsible,” said Mr. Pompeo.
“All wrongfully detained Americans should be released immediately,” President Trump’s top diplomat stressed during a press conference held at State Department headquarters.
It is not clear how many Americans are wrongfully detained abroad, and the State Department declined to provide a number due to privacy and security considerations of ongoing cases.
The State Department previously singled out several Americans detained overseas while raising concerns about the coronavirus ravaging prisons around the world, however.
Mr. Pompeo issued a statement last month urging Venezuela to release five U.S. citizens and one U.S. resident jailed in Caracas – Citgo executives dubbed the “Citgo 6” – saying they each have weakened immune systems and face a grave health risk if they contract COVID-19, the infectious respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
More recently, the U.S. envoy to Russia raised concerns this week about the health and safety amid the pandemic of Paul Whelan, a former Marine jailed in Moscow for more than 15 months on accusations of conducting espionage. In a statement Tuesday, Amb. John Sullivan said the U.S. attempted to deliver masks, gloves and sanitizers to protect Mr. Whelan in prison from COVID-19 but was ultimately denied.
Worldwide, more than 3 million people have contracted COVID-19 since the coronavirus was discovered in late December, according to Johns Hopkins University. More than 225,000 people have died from the disease and over 950,000 have recovered, according to the university.
COVID-19 is highly contagious in addition to being potentially deadly, making people confined to cramped and unsanitary facilities like prisons at a disadvantage due to their inability to maintain social distancing practices meant to prevent the disease from spreading. Several prisons in the U.S. and abroad have accordingly released inmates rather than risk having them contract, spread and succumb to COVID-19 in their custody.