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Legal Dictionary

hostage

Definition of hostage

Pronunciation

Etymology

    From Old French hostage (French: otage, from hoste or Late Latin obsidanus.)

Noun

hostage (plural hostages)

  1. A person given as a pledge or security for the performance of the conditions of a treaty or stipulations of any kind, on the performance of which the person is to be released.

Further reading

A hostage is a person or entity which is held by a captor. The original definition meant that this was handed over by one of two belligerent parties to the other or seized as security for the carrying out of an agreement, or as a preventive measure against certain acts of war. However, in modern days, it means someone who is seized by a criminal abductor in order to compel another party such as a relative, employer, law enforcement, or government to act, or refrain from acting, in a particular way, often under threat of serious physical harm to the hostage(s) after expiration of an ultimatum.

A person or party which seize(s) (a) hostage(s) is/are known as (a) hostage-taker(s); if the hostages are present(ed) voluntarily, then the receiver is known rather as a host.

Illegal hostage taking

Taking hostages is today considered a crime or an act of terrorism; the use of the word in this sense of abductee became current only in the 1970s. The criminal activity is known as kidnapping. An acute situation where hostages are kept in a building or a vehicle that has been taken over by armed terrorists or common criminals is often called a hostage crisis.

Hostage taking is still often politically motivated or intended to raise a ransom or to enforce an exchange against other hostages or even condemned convicts. However in some countries hostage taking for profit has become an "industry", ransom often being the only demand.

References:

  1. Wiktionary. Published under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share-Alike License.



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