Arrested with a dual nationality

Every year Dutch citizens are arrested and imprisoned overseas. In total, 2600 Dutch citizens are in prison abroad. Being detained or jailed overseas, or having one of your relatives or friends arrested in prison overseas, can be traumatic, distressing and frightening. Prison conditions in many countries can be significantly harsher than those in the Netherlands.

When Dutch citizens travel abroad, they leave behind the Dutch-support systems, emergency service capabilities and medical facilities. When you are in another country, you are required to respect and abide by that country’s local laws. Some countries impose tough penalties including life imprisonment and the death penalty. Be aware that local laws and penalties apply to you. Age, health concerns or ignorance are not valid excuses.

Most Dutch travellers who are arrested overseas expect to be returned home as soon as possible. Be aware that if you are arrested overseas, you may face a significant period of detention before your case comes to trial. Legal and administrative processes may be substantially different from those in the Netherlands and slow by our standards.

Consular assistance

If you are arrested a member of the embassy or consulate staff will try to visit you as soon as possible after your arrest. You should inform the local authorities that you wish to receive a visit from the embassy or consulate. If this is not immediately possible, the embassy or consulate will write to you. The embassy or consulate will inform you about aspects of the local legal system such as legal aid and procedures concerning prosecution, pretrial detention, bail and appeal. This will help you understand what is happening and what your rights are.

Dual Nationality

Dutch citizens with a dual nationality need to be aware of the following when they travel abroad.

If you have a dual nationality and you are arrested in a third country you need to choose from which country you seek consular assistance. For example: if you have both Canadian and Dutch nationality while you are arrested in Thailand, you need to choose between the Dutch or Canadian embassy. Both countries cannot provide consular assistance at the same time.

But if you are arrested in one of the countries where you have citizenship, the Dutch embassy or consulate may not be able to provide you with consular assistance, such as visits. Additionally, a person might not be regarded as a Dutch citizen if that person doesn’t travel with his or her Dutch passport, which may also limit the Dutch Governments ability to provide consular assistance.

Under international law, countries are not obliged to recognise dual nationality. Many countries will not permit prisoners with dual nationality to receive consular assistance from the embassy or consulate of the other nationality.

The host government may deny consular visits and may not divulge information relevant to your case. In such cases the Dutch government will register its view with the local government. Even if Dutch citizens are entitled to receive consular assistance, however, there is no guarantee that local authorities will make any allowances as a result of these representations.

This can be demonstrated in the case of the Iranian-Dutch citizen Zahra Bahrami, arrested in the wake of the 2009 Ashura protests, and sentenced to death on drug charges. The Dutch government has been seeking details about Bahramis case and has accused the Iranian authorities of refusing the Dutch embassy access to the prisoner because Iran did not recognize her dual nationality. The Iran authorities executed Zahra Bahrami on 29th of January without informing the Dutch authorities, her lawyer or her relatives.

Another case is that of Dutch citizen Albdullah Mansouri, who was arrested during a visit to Syria in May 2006. A few days later he was extradited to Iran. Abdullah al-Mansouri had been granted political asylum in the Netherlands at the end of the 1980s. From the southern Dutch city of Maastricht he headed the Ahwaz Liberation Organization (ALO), which strives to establish an independent state for Arabs in the Ahwaz region of Iran. For many years Al- Mansouri was an active volunteer of Amnesty International Maastricht. Until now the Dutch embassy, his family and his lawyer have not been allowed to visit Al Mansouri in prison. The Iranian government does not recognize dual nationality. This makes it impossible for the Dutch embassy to provide consular assistance. Today Al-Mansouri is serving a 30 year sentence in Iran and it is still unclear where he is being held.

Prisonlaw believes that prisoners with a dual nationality should receive the same consular assistance as other prisoners with Dutch nationality. But international law as it stands now supports the position of the imprisoning country. We are hoping that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will exercise authority to provide consular assistance to these dual nationality prisoners. On the other hand we fervently hope that Dutch travellers will think twice before even considering an act that runs contrary to a foreign legal system.

Written by Rachel Imamkhan


Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs
Amnesty International (2010), Iran: Amnesty International Report 2007 & 2010
The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations