Lawmaker to Call for Renewed Push to Free Paul Whelan, U.S. Marine Jailed in Russia
Paul N. Whelan, the former US Navy sentenced in Russia to 16 years in prison for espionage, has not been able to contact his family or the US embassy since July 4, and his relatives and members of Congress are increasingly more worried about his well-being. being.
“He was not heard,” Representative Haley Stevens, a Michigan Democrat who represents Mr. Whelan, said in an interview. “We haven’t heard from him, nor have we really been able to speak to him since the beginning of July.”
Ms Stevens and family members of Mr Whelan and Trevor Reed, another former Navy sentenced to prison in Russia, are expected to hold a press conference to discuss conditions of detention and push for new congressional resolutions calling for their release.
Speaking outside the Capitol on Thursday, Ms Stevens said Mr Whelan was forced to work six days a week at a prison garment factory, injuring his arm, and was held by Russia for 944 days.
“He has been away from friends and family for 944 days,” Stevens said at the press conference. “It’s 944 days too long.”
In early June, Mr Whelan gave an interview to CNN, after which Russian authorities restricted his access to cell phones, although he was still allowed to call his family. President Biden discussed the cases of Mr Whelan, 51, and Mr Reed, 30, during his June summit with Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.
Mr Whelan called his parents in early July, followed by a second on July 4.
“At that point he said, ‘If you haven’t heard from me tomorrow, there have been problems,'” his sister Elizabeth Whelan said in an interview.
Since then, neither the U.S. Embassy in Moscow nor Mr. Whelan’s parents have been able to contact him, Ms. Whelan said.
Joey Reed, Mr Reed’s father, said Thursday his son was suffering from Covid and had not heard from him for more than two weeks. “We are very concerned for his health,” he said. “Our two families fear that Paul and Trevor will die in a Russian prison due to poor conditions and lack of medical care.”
The evidence against Mr Whelan is slim, and nothing presented by Russian prosecutors has convinced US officials that he was engaged in spying on Russia.
Mr Whelan was arrested in late 2018 and after his conviction last year was placed in the IK-17 labor camp in Mordovia, about eight hours from Moscow.
Ms Whelan said they assume her brother was sent back to camp after being transferred to a hospital for treatment of an arm injury. But Ms Stevens said it was not clear where the Russians were holding him now. She also said he had been placed in solitary confinement.
Ms. Stevens, the congresswoman, said: “The reality is that there was no contact with him. This reaches another pivotal moment.
Congress passed a resolution on Mr Whelan in 2019, but further action is in order, Ms Stevens said. She added that a vote would hardly force Whelan’s release, but would demonstrate bipartisan opposition to Moscow’s tactics and put himself “in the shoes of the Russians.”
Representative August Pfluger, the Republican from Texas who represents the district Mr. Reed is from, called on Biden to step up the pressure on Russia.
“We won’t compromise until we get Trevor and Paul home,” he said. “We will not tolerate American citizens being illegally detained by the Putin regime. “
Ms Stevens said Moscow was trying to use Mr Whelan and Mr Reed to its own advantage.
“Americans absolutely cannot be used as political pawns for other countries, period, end of story, not acceptable,” she said. “These are the Russians engaged in the dark arts of political interference. I think this is part of an attempt to play with the internal psychology of our political structure. “
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