Russians kept Whelan kept from showering, exercise during solitary confinement

Melissa Nann Burke
The Detroit News

Washington — In an alleged violation of human rights, Michigan's Paul Whelan was not permitted to exercise or shower for the bulk of his month-longstay in solitary confinement in a Russian prison, his family said Monday.

The first details about Paul's isolation are emerging after his brother said Paul was able to speak with his parents in Michigan over the weekend — the first time since before he was locked in solitary for over four weeks. It's unclear to his family why Paul was sent into isolation.

"Paul said that a fellow inmate described his solitary confinement as more severe than normal," said David Whelan, who is Paul's twin brother, adding that no shower or exercise is a violation of both of international human rights standards and Russian Federal Penitentiary Service regulations — "neither of which is a surprise at labor colony IK-17."

David said Paul was given an hour of exercise and a chance to shower only the morning of a visit Wednesday by staff from the United Kingdom's embassy, which Paul was not expecting. The UK staff said Paul appeared "healthy," David noted, and his brother was released from solitary either Thursday or Friday. 

Paul Whelan, a former U.S. marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 15, 2020. The Moscow City Court on Monday convicted Paul Whelan on charges of espionage and sentenced him to 16 years in maximum security prison colony.

"One silver lining to being in solitary confinement for 30 days was that Paul had uninterrupted sleep since the every-two-hour nightly 'flight risk' check by guards wasn't made," David said Monday. 

Paul Whelan, 51, of Novi is a former security executive and U.S. Marine. He has been in custody in Russia since his arrest at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and conviction on espionage charges a year ago that he's vehemently denied. He is now serving a 16-year sentence of hard labor.

U.S. officials have repeatedly called for Whelan's release, as well another American prisoner, Trevor Reed of Texas. Both men traveled to Russia as tourists.

President Joe Biden in June described both Whelan and Reed as "wrongfully imprisoned" in Russia and advocated on their behalf last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Geneva summit.

"We are aware of reports that authorities have released Paul from isolated detention," a State Department spokesman said Monday. "We continue to press the Russian government to release Paul Whelan and Trevor Reed."

Prior to this past weekend, Paul had last spoken to his parents by phone on either July 2 or 3 and was then placed in solitary confinement, David has said.

He noted that Russian prison monitor Valery Krutov was quoted in the Russian media as saying Paul had accumulated "more than 10" minor infractions that might have led to his stay in solitary. The prison has not provided this information to Paul's lawyers or any consular representatives, despite its being requested, David said. 

"Paul has never mentioned anything beyond things like his uniform being out of alignment, things that are apparently documented in Russian but not explained to him in English," David said in a statement.

The brother said Paul has asked to see the list of infractions but they have not been provided to him. But Paul told his parents how he received one infraction: He was ordered to go to the prison administration building, and when he got there, he was turned away, David said.

Paul was then asked to return to the administration building, where he was given an infraction for having responded to the order to go there the first time.  

"Apparently, Paul was placed in solitary confinement for a month due to an accumulation of pettiness," David said. 

"It's hard to believe that this arbitrary punishment had any purpose other than to isolate Paul. He complains to media and others about human rights violations only to have them inflicted again."

David added that his brother has still been unable to call the U.S Embassy in Moscow or his lawyer. 

"We continue to hope that someone, somewhere, is making an effort to get Paul released," David said. 

mburke@detroitnews.com