Detained Americans Fast Facts

CNN  — 

Here’s a look at some recent cases of foreign governments detaining US citizens. For information about missing Americans, see Robert Levinson Fast Facts or POW/MIA in Iraq and Afghanistan Fast Facts.

Currently Detained Americans


Mark Swidan
November 13, 2012 - Swidan, a businessman from Texas, is arrested on drug related charges by Chinese Police while in his hotel room in Dongguan.

2013 - Swidan is tried and pleads not guilty.

2019 - Convicted of manufacturing and trafficking drugs by the Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court in southern Guangdong province and given a death sentence with a two-year reprieve.

April 13, 2023 - The Jiangmen Intermediate People’s Court denies Swidan’s appeal and upholds his death penalty.

Kai Li
September 2016 - Kai Li, a naturalized US citizen born in China, is detained while visiting relatives in Shanghai.

July 2018 - He is sentenced to 10 years in prison for espionage following a secret trial held in August 2017.


Karan Vafadari
December 2016 - Karan Vafadari’s family announces that Karan and his wife, Afarin Niasari, were detained at Tehran airport in July. Vafadari, an Iranian-American, and Niasari, a green-card holder, ran an art gallery in Tehran.

March 2017 - New charges of “attempting to overthrow the Islamic Republic and recruiting spies through foreign embassies” are brought against Vafadari and Niasari.

January 2018 - Vafadari is sentenced to 27 years in prison. Niasari is sentenced to 16 years.

July 2018 - Vafadari and Niasari are reportedly released from prison on bail while they await their appeals court rulings.


Paul Whelan
December 28, 2018 - Paul Whelan, from Michigan, a retired Marine and corporate security director, is arrested on accusations of spying. His family says he was in Moscow to attend a wedding.

January 3, 2019 - His lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, tells CNN Whalen has been formally charged with espionage.

January 22, 2019 - At his pretrial hearing, Whelan is denied bail. Whelan’s attorney Zherebenkov tells CNN that Whelan was found in possession of classified material when he was arrested in Moscow.

June 15, 2020 - Whelan is convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison.

August 8, 2021 - State news agency TASS reports that Whelan has been released from solitary confinement in the Mordovian penal colony where he is being held.

Evan Gershkovich
March 30, 2023 - Evan Gershkovich, a Wall Street Journal reporter, is detained by Russian authorities and accused of spying. The Wall Street Journal rejects the spying allegations.

April 3, 2023 - The Russian state news agency TASS reports Gershkovich has filed an appeal against his arrest.

April 7, 2023 - Gershkovich is formally charged with espionage.

April 10, 2023 - The US State Department officially designates Gershkovich as wrongfully detained by Russia.

April 18, 2023 - The Moscow City Court denies his appeal to change the terms of his detention. Gershkovich will continue to be held in a pre-trial detention center at the notorious Lefortovo prison until May 29.

Saudi Arabia

Walid Fitaihi
November 2017 - Dual US-Saudi citizen Dr. Walid Fitaihi is detained at the Ritz Carlton hotel in Riyadh along with other prominent Saudis, according to his lawyer Howard Cooper. Fitaihi is then transferred to prison.

July 2019 -