Recently, I was watching an episode of The Blacklist where a character seeks sanctuary inside a Russian embassy because they’re being pursued by law enforcement. They make a deal to be transported to Russia to escape prosecution and The Blacklist team is powerless to stop the vehicle transporting them out of the embassy. That’s how I always thought things were. Diplomatic immunity was just this magical thing that allowed people to escape when wanted by the police.
It wasn’t until I researched Julian Assange that I found out this isn’t true at all. For those of you that don’t know, Julian Assange has been living in the Ecuadorian embassy in London since 2012. When I learned about this, I had to know who else sought sanctuary in an embassy to avoid negative consequences. I had no idea that the list would be as long as it was. Here are some of the people who have sought refuge in an embassy:
József Mindszenty – 15 years
József Mindszenty was the head of the Catholic Church in Hungary. He was an ardent anti-Communist and because of this was eventually arrested in 1948. They tortured a confession out of him and summarily imprisoned him. He was released eight years in 1956 after the Communist government had been overthrown. Shortly after though, the Soviet Union invaded Hungary to reimpose Communist rule and József fled to the American Embassy in Budapest. He lived there for 15 years until 1971 when the Hungarian government allowed him to leave the country. He died in 1981 in Vienna., Austria. In 1991, his remains were repatriated back to his home country.
Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre – 5 years 3 months
Víctor Raúl Haya de la Torre is remembered mostly for founding the Peruvian political party American Popular Revolutionary Alliance in 1923. During his political career, he faced imprisonment twice and at one point, was forced to seek asylum in the Colombian Embassy in Lima for five years after Manuel Odría seized power and became president. On his deathbed in 1979, he signed in the new constitution for that year as president of the constitutional assembly.
The Siberian Seven – 5 years
The Siberian Seven were a Pentecostal family by the last name of Vashchenko. They stormed the US Embassy in Moscow and refused to leave, citing religious persecution from the Soviet government. They stayed there for the next five years until 1983 when they were allowed to leave to Israel on a tourist visa. Eventually, they settled in the United States.
Mohammad Najibullah -4 years 5 months
Mohammad Najibullah rose up from being the head of the Afghanistan equivalent of the KGB to eventually becoming the president of Afghanistan from 1987 to 1992 when the Afghanistan government was dissolved. From 1992 to 1996, he stayed in the UN compound in Kabu, trying to negotiate safe passage to India. As Kabul was falling to the Taliban, associates begged him to leave the city but he refused. He was later castrated and killed by the Taliban.
Roger Pinto Molina – 455 days
Roger Pinto Molina was a Bolivian senator who was brought up on corruption charges in 2012. Alleging political persecution, he escaped to the Brazilian embassy in La Paz until he was able to escape the following year.
John William, Baron Ripperda – 407 days
Basically, he was the Spanish envoy during the 1700s who embezzled money from the crown. He sequestered himself in the British Embassy after these charges were brought against him there’s not much else besides that about him.
Fang & Li Lizhi – 385 days
Fang Lizhi was a Chinese astrophysicist. He’s probably the most interesting person I read about while researching this article. In some ways he’s like a modern day Galileo. His work on cosmology was in direct contradiction to Chinese Communist Party policy. Now he didn’t face legal consequences for this like Galileo did but the similarities are still there. Ultimately, he was a political activist who attempted to institute democracy in Communist China. Eventually, he saw the writing on the wall and he and his wife entered the US Embassy until they were able to escape the country.
(I apologize for not covering Fang’s wife equally but I couldn’t find any information on her.)