places/travel Americans Who Were Locked Up For Minor Offenses In Foreign Countries  

Jonathan Sherman
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A dream vacation can quickly become a nightmare. That's something that these travelers who broke the law know all too well. Millions of Americans travel overseas every year, but not all of them make it back home - an average of 2,500 U.S. citizens are arrested abroad every year.

Some tourists who landed in jail were engaged in obviously illegal activity, like smuggling drugs. But other Americans locked up abroad likely didn't even know they were breaking the law. After all, other countries are run by a very different set of legal rules. Some offenses that are considered serious aren't even criminal in the United States.

From cycling in the wrong place to refusing to engage with flirtatious strangers, the reasons why these Americans were locked up often seem ridiculously overblown. But it's important to remember that every culture operates differently; even celebrities can't avoid international run-ins with the law.

Otto Warmbier Was Given Hard Labor In North Korea For Stealing A Poster


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In 2016, at the age of 21, Otto Warmbier was arrested in North Korea and sentenced to 15 years hard labor. He was convicted of stealing a propaganda poster from the hotel he was staying at. Video footage was released of Warmbier pleading his case in a Pyongyang court, tearfully saying, "It was the worst decision of my life, but I am only human."

Unfortunately for Warmbier, the rising tensions between North Korea and the United States has only made his situation worse. Sports agent David Sugarman, who has campaigned for the release of U.S. citizens from North Korea, continues to speak out on Warmbier's behalf. "North Korea has been in the news lately but it has nothing to do with Otto," he said in April 2017. "[Yet] there is a solution to all of this and it is not war."

A Woman Was Jailed In Dubai For Ignoring Men


A Woman Was Jailed In Dubai Fo... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list Americans Who Were Locked Up For Minor Offenses In Foreign Countries
Photo: ahsonwardak/flickr/CC-BY-NC 2.0

In February 2016, an unidentified 25-year-old American woman was jailed in Dubai. She was allegedly approached by two men as she waited for a taxi at the Abu Dhabi International Airport, and "refused to engage with them."

The woman was charged with insulting the United Arab Emirates. However, a psychological evaluation showed that she was mentally ill, and she was acquitted.


Kian Tajbakhsh is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list Americans Who Were Locked Up For Minor Offenses In Foreign Countries
Photo: Pkilpadi/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 4.0

Scholar Kian Tajbakhsh was arrested in Tehran, Iran in 2009. He was accused of endangering national security, contacting foreign elements, and espionage, and sentenced to 15 years in prison. The charges likely stemmed from his work with the Open Society Institute, a nonprofit aimed at promoting democracy.

Thankfully, Tajbakhsh was allowed to leave Iran in 2016 so that he would be able to work at Columbia University in New York.

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A Man Was Arrested For Cycling In Hong Kong


A Man Was Arrested For Cycling... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list Americans Who Were Locked Up For Minor Offenses In Foreign Countries
Photo: barnyz/flickr/CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0

In 2015, an American who identified himself as "Lee" was stopped and arrested by Hong Kong police for riding a bicycle in a "restricted area." Lee tried to explain that he was just walking the bike, but then police asked for identification, which he did not have with him at the time. Lee was led off by the officers, who believed that he might be in the country illegally.

The U.S. State Department warns Americans that "[International] police have the right to take you in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you."