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This week marks the 4th year of Paul Whelan's detention in Russia

Public Domain
U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Russia

This week marked the fourth year that Michigan resident and former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan has been imprisoned in Russia, in what his brother David calls an “awful milestone.”

The Russians claim Whelan was a spy. His family and the U.S. government flatly deny that, and say Whelan is a political prisoner. Whelan was convicted of espionage in what U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls “a secret trial with secret evidence.” He’s now in a Russian labor colony.

David Whelan said his family continues “to be grateful for the efforts of the U.S. government to persuade the Kremlin to release Paul.” Whelan’s long detention burst back into the spotlight again recently, after the Biden administration made a controversial agreement to swap WNBA star Brittney Griner, who had been detained in Russia on drug charges, for convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. The administration said Whelan was excluded from the deal because the Kremlin is treating his case differently due to the espionage charges.

“Today is the 1,461st day that Paul has been held hostage by the Russian Federation,” David Whelan wrote on Wednesday. “Russian authorities entrapped him four years ago today. How do you mark such an awful milestone when there is no resolution in sight?

“Some of you have contacted me about the 4th year anniversary. I have struggled with what to tell you. It is both awful and mundane, just another day that Paul has to suffer in a Russian labor colony for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

David Whelan concluded his statement by saying he hopes the U.S. government’s ongoing efforts to free his brother “will be successful. Hopefully Paul will be able to stop by our parents’ home and visit them, free at last, before another milestone passes. On milestones, sometimes all you have is hope.”

In a statement also released to mark the fourth anniversary of Whelan’s arrest and detention, Blinken said he is “wrongfully detained” and “suffering through an unfathomable ordeal.”

“His detention remains unacceptable, and we continue to press for his immediate release at every opportunity,” Blinken said. “I am committed to bringing home Paul and all U.S. hostages and wrongful detainees held around the world. As the President said directly to the Whelan family, our efforts to secure Paul’s release will not cease until he is back home with his family where he belongs.”

Sarah Cwiek joined Michigan Public in October 2009. As our Detroit reporter, she is helping us expand our coverage of the economy, politics, and culture in and around the city of Detroit.
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