Today I heard an interesting news story on the radio.

A Saudi citizen was imprisoned inside the Saudi embassy in Istanbul (Turkey), and the Turkish authorities are investigating the matter after a request came from his wife.

Now the question is if the Turkish authorities confirmed that he was imprisoned inside, what are the available options? I mean does the hosting country has the authority to extract him by force? Or is there a court for such incidents?

What if the citizen imprisoned inside was not Saudi but Turkish for example ?

Background information : the Saudi citizen's name is Jamal khashoggi. He is a prominent Saudi writer, after the prince Mohammed bin Salman rose to power he fled to turkey.

  • 1
    Did Turkey grant this person citizenship (in addition to his Saudi citizenship)?
    – JJJ
    Oct 3, 2018 at 11:41
  • @JJJ I do not see how the citizenship of the victim would be relevant from a legal POV, since kidnapping a Turkish citizen or a foreigner would be exactly the same crime.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 3, 2018 at 13:55
  • @SJuan76 if you hold a citizen of country X against their will then country X will have some stake in wanting to help that citizen. If it's not their citizen they may (I'm not saying that it is per se, but it may be a factor) have less power to do anything about it.
    – JJJ
    Oct 3, 2018 at 14:00
  • 2
    @JJJ contrarily to popular belief, embassies are not "foreign territory" and are bound by the laws of the host country. They do have inviolability and police forces can enter only when authorized by the sending country, but the kidnapping would be as illegal inside the embassy as it would be outside.
    – SJuan76
    Oct 3, 2018 at 15:59
  • 1
    @SJuan76 while it may be illegal, what can the host country do? They can declare everyone in the embassy perona non grata (which doesn't mean they can arrest anyone). That's quite a harsh course of action. Do you see any less severe course of action?
    – JJJ
    Oct 3, 2018 at 16:05

2 Answers 2


in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations it is stated in article 22 that

The premises of the mission shall be inviolable.

So any attempts to extract someone from the embassy by any forces of the hosting state are a breach of international law. In the same article it is stated that the

receiving State is under a special duty to take all appropriate steps to protect the premises of the mission against any intrusion

meaning that the host state has to secure the embassy from any private attempts extract someone.

From my point of view most of the problems arising from this question were discussed several times according to diplomatic asylum.

But because in this case it is assumed that person in the embassy wants to leave it there is at least the point that the host state could declare any member of the diplomatic mission a persona non grata. So in theory the embassy could become empty enough for the imprisoned person to leave, but the members of the diplomatic mission could hide the imprisoned person inside their luggage, that is forbidden to be checked in any way, and smuggle him out of the embassy. It is by Article 27 illegal to do this, because a prisoner could not be considered a document or an article for official use, but there is legally no option to uncover this without opening the luggage, that is protected until it is proved that it contains something that is not covered by Article 27.

An additional point is that the members of the mission have to respect the law of the hosting state, even if they are immune to it. So if a court of the hosting country demands that the imprisoned person to be left free to continue the imprisoning may let the diplomatic mission breach international law on there own.

The problem is that there is no court to judge this case that would be able to enforce its decisions.

I do not need to outline that none of the acts described above is a friendly action towards the sending state.

  • 1
    The departing diplomats cannot smuggle the kidnapped person out in diplomatic luggage. politics.stackexchange.com/questions/34187/… Oct 3, 2018 at 15:20
  • @PaulJohnson They could, it is only forbidden, but you are correct, I should point out that this is an violation of international law, that is only not detectable without violating international law.
    – msebas
    Oct 4, 2018 at 21:49
  • I'm curious of scanning diplomatic containers is within the laws/rules/conventions
    – CGCampbell
    Oct 5, 2018 at 15:14
  • @CGCampbell Hi, according to the German Wikipedia page, that is referring to this column, the scanning via X-ray is considered by at least some countries a violation of the protection of diplomatic luggage. But it seems like there is no agreement on that. Additional I do not fully trust this source.
    – msebas
    Oct 6, 2018 at 16:14

In addition to the rules laid out by msebas, there are several other relevant provisions of the Vienna Convention.

For starters, the sending state can't unilaterally declare any citizen of the receiving state a member of the diplomatic delegation (which could otherwise be abused in cases of kidnapping or asylum):

Members of the diplomatic staff of the mission may not be appointed from among persons having the nationality of the receiving State, except with the consent of that State which may be withdrawn at any time.

(Article 8)

The same article also permits the receiving state to "reserve the same right with regard to nationals of a third State who are not also nationals of the sending State." This is why (for example) Ecuador was unable to appoint Julian Assange to a diplomatic post in order to exfiltrate him from their embassy in London.

The sending state can waive any and all immunity:

The immunity from jurisdiction of diplomatic agents and of persons enjoying immunity under article 37 [i.e. family members, support staff, etc.] may be waived by the sending State.

(Article 32)

They are generally expected to do this if any diplomatic agent appears guilty of a serious crime. Failure to waive immunity implies endorsement of the illegal act, and may have serious diplomatic consequences.

The diplomatic mission is not supposed to be used for doing illegal things, which presumably includes kidnapping:

Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State. They also have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of that State.
The premises of the mission must not be used in any manner incompatible with the functions of the mission as laid down in the present Convention or by other rules of general international law or by any special agreements in force between the sending and the receiving State.

(Article 41)

Even breaking diplomatic ties outright would be insufficient to remove immunity from the grounds of the mission:

If diplomatic relations are broken off between two States, or if a mission is permanently or temporarily recalled:
(a) The receiving State must, even in case of armed conflict, respect and protect the premises of the mission, together with its property and archives;

(Article 45)

However, Article 39 provides that:

When the functions of a person enjoying privileges and immunities have come to an end, such privileges and immunities shall normally cease at the moment when he leaves the country, or on expiry of a reasonable period in which to do so, but shall subsist until that time, even in case of armed conflict. However, with respect to acts performed by such a person in the exercise of his functions as a member of the mission, immunity shall continue to subsist.

So in the event of a diplomatic break, the members of the mission would need to leave the country within a "reasonable period of time" or they lose their immunity and could be arrested for kidnapping. At that point, the victim can presumably walk out.

Unnamed Turkish officials are now alleging that the Saudis murdered Mr. Khashoggi, which the Saudis promptly denied. Neither side appears to have offered any hard evidence so far (despite what the Washington Post describes as a "thicket of security cameras around the consulate"), so I will not speculate on the veracity of these allegations. It is likely we will know the truth in the near future.

Nevertheless, as with the Skripal poisoning, if true this is potentially an act of war. Mr. Khashoggi's citizenship does not change that fact.

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