After 3 years detained in Russia, Paul Whelan has 'lost everything,' family says
On the three-year anniversary of Paul Whelan's detention in Russia, U.S. lawmakers and relatives of the Novi resident reiterated their pleas for his freedom.
The 51-year-old former security executive has been in custody in Russia since his arrest at a Moscow hotel in December 2018. He is serving a 16-year sentence of hard labor at a prison camp in Mordovia after being convicted last year in a secret trial on espionage charges that he's vehemently denied.
David Whelan, in a Tuesday statement, argued that his brother's freedom and his life were stolen by the Federal Security Services.
"Now Paul sits in a Russian labor colony, waiting for justice after being convicted in a secret trial with secret evidence," he said. "I'm sure he waits in vain. At least he can hope for his freedom.
"It's not just the injustice of Russian hostage diplomacy," he continued. "It's the stolen years with our parents as they age, missing Christmases and birthdays and family time. It's the stolen life, as one by one, Paul lost his job, his home, his ability to communicate and be with friends. He lost everything he'd known."
The statement from Whelan's family comes after they expressed hope earlier this month that President Joe Biden would press Russian President Vladimir Putin for Whelan's release during a planned video call between the presidents amid a buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine's border.
David Whelan, at the time, had urged Biden to press for his brother's release, noting Biden's "representatives in the State Department and the National Security Council."
Secretary of State Antony Blinken also signaled ahead of a meeting this month with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in Stockholm that he would bring up the cases of Whelan of Michigan and Trevor Reed of Texas, another former Marine held in Russia.
"Secretary Blinken has been very clear about the need for Russia to release U.S. citizens Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed unconditionally and immediately so they can be home with their families," Ned Price, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of State, said in a Tuesday statement. "Their release remains a vital priority for the United States."
David Whelan noted Tuesday that the Biden administration has raised Paul's wrongful detention in their many contacts with Russian counterparts, including by Biden himself.
U.S. officials and lawmakers have repeatedly called for the release of Whelan and Reed. Both men traveled to Russia as tourists.
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, a Bloomfield Township Democrat, referenced Whelan's continued detainment in a Tuesday post on Twitter.
"Three holiday seasons spent in a prison cell, separated from those he loves," Levin wrote. "The Russian government must put an end to this abuse of power and #FreePaulWhelan immediately."
In late October, the Whelans and Reed's mother, Paula, signed onto a letter with about two dozen other hostages' families expressing frustration that the Biden administration had not done more to secure or prioritize their relatives' release.
The Whelan family has condemned multiple examples of corruption at the labor colony IK-17 where he is serving his sentence and where Paul has complained about alleged human rights abuses and violations of Russian law. Earlier this year, he was held in solitary confinement for a month, during which time he was not permitted to exercise or shower.
David Whelan has highlighted the recent arrest of the warden there as well as a second investigation into corruption at the labor camp.
On Tuesday, he said that the family is hopeful that 2022 "is the year that Paul's freedom is restored" before a fourth anniversary comes around.
"We remind Paul that people still care about his case and his false imprisonment," David Whelan added. "Even after three years, friends and family contribute to his GoFundMe page to ensure we can support his needs in prison. They write letters that they hope will reach him."