South African citizens: if you are arrested or jailed overseas...


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If you are arrested or jailed overseas, you should contact the closest South African mission.

The purpose of this information is to provide you with guidance on what you should do if you are arrested whilst outside South Africa.

Under the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1962), which is the generally accepted standard for all countries, persons who have been arrested outside their own country must have access to their consular representative.

If you should find yourself in this situation, you must immediately request the authorities to allow you to contact the South African mission in that country.

Consular staff are there to assist you.

They are not judgmental. It is the task of the local courts to decide on your innocence or guilt. Even if you are found guilty, consular officials will continue to assist you and you should not feel embarrassed in your dealings with the mission.



If you are arrested, the consular officials can:


MAKE CONTACT with you as soon as possible after notification of your arrest.

GIVE YOU SOME GENERAL INFORMATION about the legal system of the country you are being held in. Information may include details on legal aid (if available) and prosecution, remand, bail and appeal procedures, so that you will understand what is happening and be aware of your rights.

GIVE YOU A LIST OF LAWYERS. (The mission cannot make recommendations as to which lawyer you should choose).

ARRANGE FOR YOUR NEXT OF KIN TO BE NOTIFIED of your arrest, if you wish. (If you do not want your family notified, your request will be respected and the mission will withhold information about your situation from your family and friends. You should, however, consider the distress and uncertainty your whereabouts and/or situation may cause your family. The disadvantages of their being kept in ignorance of your position far outweigh concerns you may have of their feeling on the matter. There is also the possibility of your family finding out about your situation from media reports in South Africa).


ENSURE that any medical or dental problem you may have is brought to the attention of the prison doctor/dentist.

 CONTINUE TO VISIT YOU. The frequency of visits will depend on various factors such as the length of sentence, the distance of the prison from the mission, and so on. Most importantly, visits will depend on the mission obtaining the relevant local authorities' approval and prison clearance prior to any official visit, as well as the availability of funds.

ASSIST IN MAKING BANKING or other arrangements so that monies deposited by your family or others will reach you.



GET you out of prison.


OBTAIN legal advice on your behalf. Dealings with your lawyer are a private matter.


PAY for a lawyer's services, instigate court proceedings on your behalf or interfere in local judicial procedures to get you out of prison or get an early trial.


OBTAIN better treatment for you than is provided for locals or other nationals.


OBTAIN bail for you.


PAY your fines.


CONDUCT investigations related to an offence.

SUPPORT you financially in prison. If you are unable to pay essential costs yourself or earn money by working in the prison, you will have to contact your family or friends for financial support.


If you are a dual national in the country of your other nationality the assistance which South African consular representatives can give you may be limited. (That is, even if you are a South African citizen but you also possess the nationality of the country in which you have been detained or arrested).


It is possible, however, that the local authorities will allow the consular representative to assist you. You should ask for access to your consular representative in such circumstances and press the prison, court or police authorities for such access to the greatest extent.




What you can do for yourself:


There are a number of things that prisoners in foreign jails can do to help themselves. Prisons sometimes provide opportunities for foreign prisoners to learn the local language and this should improve the quality of your life in prison by enabling you to communicate with fellow prisoners and with the prison guards.


However, in some countries there are very few, if any, opportunities for prisoners to access education material, work or even use the telephone. Prison conditions and approach to management of prisoners vary with the country and culture and different conditions and rules apply for different prisons.


Your life in prison will be more usefully spent if you can take advantage of educational facilities. You could write to educational institutions for information on courses or use the prison library (if there is one). If you cannot obtain the materials you need inside the prison, ask the prison staff to get them for you.


Most people find that work helps pass the time more quickly. You should explore this option energetically with the prison authorities, especially if it provides you with an income.


Make sure that you know how many letters you are allowed to send. Sometimes remand prisoners can send more. It is important that you get your affairs in order and write as many letters as possible before your trial.


Many prisons provide facilities for prisoners to make telephone calls. You should find out about the rules, especially those which enable you to contact your family and friends.


Your health
If you have a health problem you should inform the prison authorities and ask to see the prison doctor. If you are worried about your health, for example if you are HIV- positive, or think you may be HIV-positive, you are advised to discuss this with the doctor and the consular representative of the mission.

Information for relatives of South African prisoners abroad

You may find the situation of your relative or friend who is imprisoned abroad distressing. It may also bring hardship for you, especially if you have been relying on that person for support and/or they now rely on you for financial assistance while in prison abroad.

While the mission and departmental staff will do all they can to assist you, all they ask in return is that you respect their efforts to assist you and understand that their primary client is the person who has been arrested or is in prison. It may be that the jailed person will not want the Department to convey information to you. If the Department cannot do something that you would like it to do, its officers should explain why this is so and what it is that you can expect from them.


A brief overview is outlined below to provide family and friends of a detainee with a clearer understanding as to the functions and responsibilities of the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and missions abroad on assistance that can or can not be rendered.




The role the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) plays from the time a South African is arrested abroad to the time they are sentenced, and while they are in prison serving their sentences.

The South African Mission abroad ensures that the next-of-kin of the detainee have been informed of the person's arrest, according to the wish of the detainee;

The Mission will endeavour that the detainee is accorded a fair and just trial by personal appearances at court hearings where circumstances permit;

The Mission will ensure that the detainee has access to legal representation, in accordance with the local laws and customs;

The Mission will endeavour to ensure that the detainee is able to make regular contact with his/her next-of-kin;

The Mission will endeavour to ensure that the detainee is able to receive funds from his/her next of kin, in accordance with the local and South African laws;

Representatives of the Mission cannot involve themselves with the judicial process of the receiving State;

Should the Mission receive complaints concerning the detainee's well being (within reason), these will be addressed. Consular officials however, do not interfere with the local penal regulations or with any problems relating to the judicial process.


Where disciplinary measures have been taken against a detainee by the prison authorities, consular officials do not interfere in this process, unless the detainee's human rights have been violated. Under such circumstances, local laws and customs are taken into account;
The Mission will ensure that the detainee has access to medical treatment whilst imprisoned, in accordance with the local laws and customs (medical expenses such as medication etc. are for the account of the detainee / next-of-kin (if applicable);

South Africa does not enter into prisoner transfer agreements;

Families / friends can forward letters and prescription medicine via the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO). All postage fees will be for the cost of the sender;

The Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) does not render financial assistance to South African citizens in detention or carry the costs of the transport (deportation) for the return to South Africa after release.


Assistance that can be rendered by next-of-kin / friends to a detainee abroad

Transfer of funds to a detainee abroad:


Approval has been obtained from the South African Reserve Bank, giving authority to the Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) to transfer funds from South Africa to an individual detainee serving sentence abroad.


An amount not exceeding R 2 000.00 per month or R 24 000.00 annually has been approved. However, representation can be directed to the Reserve Bank to increase the amount currently approved.


In order to effect payment, the next of kin of the detainee may either approach the Department of International Relations and Cooperation finance section directly, or alternatively, they may deposit the amount they intend to make available.


Details are as follows:

Department of International Relations and Cooperation
460 Soutpansberg Road
 Pretoria, 0084




Department of International Relations and Cooperation

Private Bag X152




Bank details:
Account holder: Department of Foreign Affairs
Bank: First National Bank
Account number: 62027898470
Branch number: 253145
Reference no: 8033 230-7


Please note:


It is important that a copy of the bank deposit slip, depicting details of the detainee (name), country of detention and contact telephone number of the depositor, be faxed to the relevant consular desk official at (012) 351-1916.


On receipt of the funds, the finance section of the Department of Foreign Affairs will instruct the Mission to pay out the relevant amount to the detainee. The exchange rate will be based on the applicable exchange rate of the day of transfer.


Funds for the purchase of an air-ticket to South Africa upon release of a detainee

Once the release of a detainee becomes imminent and it is necessary to purchase an air ticket for him/her to return to South Africa, the ticket can either be purchased in South Africa (the airline in South Africa can instruct the relevant airline in the foreign country to issue the said ticket) or the funds for the purchase of the ticket can be paid at any office of the

Department of Home Affairs (amount not exceeding R 15 000) who in turn will instruct the relevant Mission abroad to pay out to the money to the released detainee or effect payment for the ticket on behalf of the (released) detainee.


Forwarding of letters and prescribed medication

The next-of-kin and /or friends may forward letters via the Department of Foreign Affairs' diplomatic freight bag. The sealed, fully addressed letter to the detainee should be placed in a second envelope, which must be correctly addressed to the relevant mission for onward transmission to the detainee, for example:


Department of Foreign Affairs
(Sao Palo)
Private Bag X152
Pretoria 0001
Attention: Head of Management

The next-of-kin may forward prescribed medication to the detainee via the Department of Foreign Affairs' diplomatic freight bag. The parcel containing the medication should be forwarded or handed in personally to the responsible consular desk official. Please note that the doctor's prescription must accompany the medication. Furthermore, costs pertaining to the forwarding of the medication via the diplomatic freight bag will be for the account of the next-of-kin. Payment can be effected directly at the finance section of the Department of Foreign Affairs or via bank deposit (please include deposit slip when forwarding the parcel to the responsible consular desk official).


Forwarding of magazines, books, study material
Clarification should first be sought by the relevant South African mission abroad and the concerned prison authorities whether articles as mentioned above may be received by a detainee. Please note that some prison authorities do not allow for certain articles to be forwarded to a detainee. The relevant consular desk official can also be contacted and requested to obtain verification in the above regard. Should the relevant prison authority have no objection, the parcel containing the above items should be forwarded to the relevant consular desk official. Please note that costs incurred for the forwarding of the parcel will be for the account of the next-of-kin / friend(s). Payment should be effected as mentioned above.


Forwarding of articles such as clothing, food, toiletries etc.
Please be advised that articles such as food and toiletries, etc. may not be forwarded via the Department of Foreign Affairs' diplomatic freight bag. In the event that a family member or friend wishes to forward a parcel containing items as mentioned above directly to the detainee, clarification must be sought as to whether the prison authorities will allow a detainee to receive these items. Clarification can be sought directly from the relevant mission abroad (who will enquire from the prison authorities) or through the responsible consular desk official at the Department of Foreign Affairs.


Where the forwarding of clothing is required, a request can be forwarded to the responsible consular desk official at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Please note that each case pertaining to the latter request will be evaluated on merit. In the event that permission is granted, the next-of-kin or family friend will be responsible for the diplomatic freight bag costs. Once approval has been obtained, the parcel containing the clothing should be forwarded to the relevant consular desk official. Payment can be effected as stated above.