Michigan man held in Russia injured in prison

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — Novi resident Paul Whelan was injured this month in the Moscow prison where he's been held for more than eight months, his family says. 

The injury likely occurred when he was forced to move to a new cell within Lefortovo Prison, putting stress on an existing hernia when he carried his belongings to the new location, his brother David Whelan said. 

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine, center, who was arrested for alleged spying in Moscow at the end of 2018, speaks to a journalist while being escorted for a hearing in a court room in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

“The prosecutor’s office also knows that I was injured by security guards in the pretrial detention center,” Whelan told the court, complaining of "great pain," according to the New York Times.

After the injury, Paul used the emergency notification system in the prison, but it took nearly an hour for a guard to respond, David said.

Paul, who needed surgery for his hernia before traveling to Russia last year, was immobilized for four days, David said.

"As far as we know, Paul has not been seen by a doctor not on the prison staff other than just after the Aug. 9 injury," David said Wednesday. 

"Paul faces a waiting game to see how long before his condition deteriorates enough that the prison allows him to have surgery."

Whelan, 49, of Novi was arrested Dec. 28 in a Moscow hotel room and charged with espionage, which carries up to 20 years in prison in Russia. 

The former U.S. Marine, who was director of global security for auto parts supplier BorgWarner in Auburn Hills, has denied the charges against him. His lawyers say he was framed when he was handed a flash drive with classified data on it of which he had no knowledge.

Most concerning to his family, David said, are his brother's reports that prison officials are retaliating after he made human rights complaints during his public hearings and in letters to human rights groups. 

"One guard is sufficiently aggressive now that Paul has expressed concern about physical abuse. Someone at the prison is to investigate this guard's behavior, but Paul's situation is unlikely to improve," David said, noting the cell Whelan transferred to was dirty and in disrepair.

"We had hoped that the Human Rights Commission would visit Paul as they said they would in July, but that visit does not appear to have happened." 

David said his brother, who also holds Canadian citizenship, told Canadian consular staff last week that he continues to be interrogated by the FSB, the successor agency to the KGB. Whelan's lawyers say they have had difficulty accessing the prison to provide legal counsel. 

A judge on Friday extended Whelan's detention for another two months and granted the FSB investigator four more months to investigate the case. In court, Whelan claimed that medical care for injuries inflicted by the FSB in the prison "has been refused," according to video shot by journalists. 

His lawyer has said an indictment could come in the next two weeks, but his family believes his imprisonment is unlikely to end before the New Year. 

"Paul's public statements and media coverage show how precarious his existence is," David said.

"Our parents realize now that, despite not having been convicted of anything, he will not be back for our mum's 80th birthday or Christmas." 

U.S. lawmakers and diplomats have decried Russia's failure to present any evidence in the case, saying Paul should be released. 

"We continue to urge the Russian government to guarantee a fair and transparent judicial process without undue delay, in accordance with its international legal obligations," a State Department spokeswoman said Wednesday.  

"We will also continue to monitor Mr. Whelan’s case closely and to press for fair and humane treatment, due process and access to appropriate medical care for him. We take allegations of mistreatment seriously and are deeply concerned with Mr. Whelan’s allegation of continuing mistreatment at his most recent hearing."

The State Department said it previously protested to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs about Whelan’s mistreatment while in custody, asking the ministry to investigate the allegations and ensure his safety. 

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow had an emergency visit with Paul on Tuesday following his reports of the injury and abuse in the prison, David said. 

An embassy spokeswoman on Twitter condemned Russia's failure to produce evidence against Whelan, as well as not allowing any phone calls with his family or an independent medical examination. 

"It's time to put an end to this increasing isolation and allow Paul to go home," Andrea Kalan wrote.