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Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia, appears in a new video

Paul Whelan is seen in new video released by the Russian state-controlled outlet Russia Today.
Russia Today/Screenshot by NPR
Paul Whelan is seen in new video released by the Russian state-controlled outlet Russia Today.

Detained American Paul Whelan has appeared in a new video taken inside a prison camp in Russia.

In the video released Monday by the state-controlled outlet Russia Today, Whelan is shown in a prison uniform standing among other prisoners, operating a sewing machine and eating with others.

Whelan declines to answer questions from the RT reporter: "So you understand when I say that I can't do an interview, which means I can't answer any questions," he says in the video.

Whelan, a Marine Corps veteran, has been detained in Russia since 2018. In 2020 he was sentenced to 16 years on espionage charges he strongly denies.

His brother David Whelan said the 6-minute video amounted to propaganda, but it "was the first time I've seen what he really looks like since June 2020."

David Whelan said the RT crew came in May to the IK-17 prison colony where Whelan is being held.

"Not only did he not want to be interviewed, which you can see he politely declined, prison staff retaliated against him after he didn't participate," David Whelan said in a statement.

"I wish I could see Paul under better circumstances. But it was good to see him again and to see the fight remains in his eyes. It is good to know Paul remains unbowed," David Whelan added.

The U.S. State Department considers Whelan to be wrongfully detained. Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in March. Blinken said then that Whelan's detention was one of the topics of their talks, and that the U.S. was "determined to bring Paul and every other American citizen who is unjustly detained around the world home."

The White House said on Tuesday that U.S. officials have spoken with Whelan in the last several months.

"It was reassuring to see that he remains, and this is to use his brother's words, 'unbowed.' Paul continues to show tremendous courage," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said. "His circumstances are truly unacceptable and we will continue to be very clear about that. Russia should release him immediately."

Russia has freed other Americans, but some remain behind bars

Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands inside a defendants' cage as he waits to hear his verdict in Moscow on June 15, 2020.
Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP via Getty Images
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AFP via Getty Images
Paul Whelan, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran accused of espionage and arrested in Russia in December 2018, stands inside a defendants' cage as he waits to hear his verdict in Moscow on June 15, 2020.

WNBA player Brittney Griner, who was held in Russia for nearly 10 months last year over possession of less than a gram of hash oil, was released in a prisoner swap last December for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout. There was initial hope that Whelan could have been freed in that deal as well, but U.S. officials said Russia refused.

Marine veteran Trevor Reed was released in a prisoner swap in April 2022 for jailed pilot Konstantin Yaroshenko. Reed was detained during a trip to Russia in 2019 and accused of attacking a Moscow police officer, which his family denied.

Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been detained in Russia since March on espionage charges the newspaper and U.S. government say are false. The U.S. considers Gershkovich wrongfully detained.

Other cases include musician Jimmy Wilgus, who has been detained since 2016 on what his family says are false charges of indecent exposure; Thomas Stwalley, imprisoned on what he told the WSJ are false charges of intent to distribute marijuana; and Marc Fogel, a teacher who has been held since 2021 for possession of medical marijuana. Families of Wilgus and Fogel want the U.S. to designate them as wrongfully detained as well.

David Whelan said his brother "has remained aware that his cause is not forgotten, that his freedom remains a priority for the White House."

"I remain positive and confident on a daily basis that the wheels are turning. I just wish they would turn a little bit more quickly," Paul Whelan told CNN in May.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

James Doubek is an associate editor and reporter for NPR. He frequently covers breaking news for NPR.org and NPR's hourly newscast. In 2018, he reported feature stories for NPR's business desk on topics including electric scooters, cryptocurrency, and small business owners who lost out when Amazon made a deal with Apple.
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