Jailed US citizen Paul Whelan seen in rare video at Russian penal colony

Verdict hearing of former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, in Moscow

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, stands inside a defendants’ cage during his verdict hearing in Moscow, Russia June 15, 2020. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo Acquire Licensing Rights

WASHINGTON, Aug 28 (Reuters) – U.S. citizen Paul Whelan, a former marine jailed in Russia over espionage charges that the United States says are bogus, was seen in a rare video broadcast on Monday by a Kremlin-backed news channel.

Arrested in 2018 in Russia, Whelan was convicted of spying charges in 2020 and sentenced to 16 years in a penal colony in Mordovia, a Russian region notorious since Soviet times for its penal colonies. He has denied the accusations.

The Biden administration has designated Whelan as “wrongfully detained,” a legal term that means that charges are baseless and that he was targeted primarily because he is an American citizen.

Dressed in prison’s black uniform and matching hat, Whelan appears in different parts of the prison with other inmates, sewing using a sewing machine and while at the cafeteria in the footage Russian state-controlled network Russia Today (RT) put out.

“Today was the first time I’ve seen what he really looks like since June 2020,” his brother David Whelan said in an email.

He said the Russia Today had showed up in the prison in May to film Whelan and when he declined to participate, the prison staff retaliated against him. In the video, Whelan tells the questioner that he will not answer his questions.

The Biden administration has carried out two prisoner swaps with Russia amid frosty bilateral ties due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. Whelan was part of neither.

In April 2022, Russia released former U.S. marine Trevor Reed, who was convicted there in 2019, in exchange for Russian pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko.

In a December 2022 prisoner swap with Russia, Washington secured the release of U.S. basketball star Brittney Griner in exchange for notorious arms dealer Viktor Bout.

This month, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke by phone with Whelan. The administration has repeatedly said it is doing everything it can to bring him home.

Russia is also holding American citizen and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich on spying charges that carry up to 20 years in prison. He was arrested in end-March in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg.

Gershkovich, who has denied the charges, appealed on Saturday against the latest extension of his pre-trial detention in Moscow.

Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Josie Kao

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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Humeyra Pamuk is a senior foreign policy correspondent based in Washington DC. She covers the U.S. State Department, regularly traveling with U.S. Secretary of State. During her 20 years with Reuters, she has had postings in London, Dubai, Cairo and Turkey, covering everything from the Arab Spring and Syria’s civil war to numerous Turkish elections and the Kurdish insurgency in the southeast. In 2017, she was won the Knight-Bagehot fellowship program at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. She holds a BA in International Relations and an MA on European Union studies.

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