Four years later, brother speaks out on Paul Whelan’s imprisonment in Russia

Paul Whelan
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine who was arrested on charges of spying in Moscow at the end of 2018. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Four years later, brother speaks out on Paul Whelan’s imprisonment in Russia

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Wednesday marks four years since former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan was arrested by the Russian Federal Security Service and charged with espionage.

Whelan, who had been in Russia for a wedding, was caught by the FSB “while on a spy mission,” the agency’s public relations center said in a statement at the time, though he and the U.S. government refuted the claims. The Biden administration continues to consider Whelan “wrongfully detained” while engaging in negotiations with the Kremlin to bring him home.

BIDEN ADMINISTRATION SAYS WHELAN’S ESPIONAGE CHARGE COMPLICATES HIS RELEASE

“Milestones are always hard,” his brother David Whelan told the Washington Examiner in a statement. “Four birthdays, four Christmases, and now the 4th anniversary of Paul’s wrongful detention. I think we share the same concern as every family in this situation, which is that, with each passing year, it will become harder to bring Paul home.”

Paul Whelan, who was discharged from the Marines for bad conduct in 2008 after being convicted of charges related to larceny, was sentenced to 16 years in a Russian prison in June 2020.

“It has already become hard to combat compassion fatigue, to keep up Paul’s morale and help him to survive as fewer people remember his plight, fewer people write to him, and he starts to worry about being forgotten,” David Whelan continued. “We hope that Paul will be home before the next milestone that reminds him, and us, that, despite good intentions, these efforts can be fleeting. We will need to remember that there are months and possibly still years before he is free.”

The White House said last week that “there are active conversations” ongoing between the administration and their Russian counterparts surrounding Whelan’s freedom, though U.S. officials have also said that the Kremlin views him differently from other Americans the U.S. has sought to swap for due to the espionage charge.

A State Department spokesperson told the Washington Examiner that they “continue to press for the immediate release of Paul Whelan at every opportunity,” and that, “despite their best efforts, the Russian government has failed to negotiate in good faith on his case. Paul and his family continue to suffer the consequences of the Russian government’s decision to wrongfully detain U.S. citizens.”

“Our efforts to bring Paul Whelan home will not cease until he is back home with his family where he belongs,” the spokesperson continued. “Using wrongful detention as a bargaining chip represents a threat to the safety of everyone traveling, working, and living abroad. The United States opposes this practice everywhere.”

President Joe Biden agreed to prisoner exchanges with the Kremlin this year, though Whelan was left out of both of them.

Biden agreed to exchange convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout for U.S. basketball superstar Brittney Griner earlier this month, whom the administration considered wrongfully detained after she was arrested and charged with bringing vape cartridges that contained minimal amounts of marijuana. Griner was subsequently sentenced to nine years in prison. The other prisoner exchange freed convicted Russian drug smuggler Konstantin Yaroshenko for former Marine Trevor Reed in April.

Activists, athletes, and institutions pleaded with the Biden administration to get Griner home, raising awareness of not just her plight, but of the situation surrounding Whelan and other Americans across the globe wrongfully detained by foreign governments.

“We were fortunate that, in the wake of Brittney Griner’s release, both she and the U.S. government spoke up in support of Paul,” David Whelan explained. “Despite tomorrow’s anniversary, we know people are aware of Paul’s imprisonment and are doing what they can to help. Americans are writing to him, and the American government is working to secure his freedom.”

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While Whelan’s situation has received additional media coverage given the Russian connection to Griner, there are roughly 60 Americans, according to various non-profits, who are being wrongfully detained globally, many of whom have been detained longer than him.

“Mark Swidan has been held in China for nearly 10 years, Kai Li for nearly seven,” David Whelan said. “Siamak Namazi has been held in Iran for more than seven. Austin Tice has been missing for more than 10 years.”

© 2022 Washington Examiner

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