US asks to see detained American over conditions at Moscow prison
Posted August 23, 2019 4:37 p.m. EDT
CNN — The US Embassy in Moscow on Friday formally requested "immediate" consular access to detained American citizen Paul Whelan over his allegations that he has been injured while in custody, according to embassy spokesperson Andrea Kalan.
Whelan was detained in Russia late last year on espionage charges, an allegation he denies. His family maintains he had traveled to Russia to attend a wedding and that he was entrapped and falsely arrested.
"The health and welfare of U.S. citizens abroad is our highest priority," Kalan wrote Friday on Twitter.
Whelan, a discharged US Marine reservist who is also a citizen of the UK, Canada and Ireland, made the complaint during a court hearing Friday on whether to extend his pretrial detention, during which he also complained that his rights were being violated and prosecutors were acting on behalf of the Federal Security Service, Russia's domestic intelligence service.
At the end of the hearing at Moscow's Lefortovo court, the judge overseeing the case extended Whelan's detention until October 29.
At a brief court appearance in May, Whelan had said he is a political hostage, has been repeatedly threatened and is "constantly subjected to" abuse and harassment.
According to Russian media reports, Whelan said at Friday's hearing that he was not fit for his court appearance and complained of being injured in detention. Whelan, who has appeared visibly thinner in court appearances, has been in Lefortovo prison in Moscow since he was arrested at a hotel in Moscow by the Federal Security Service nearly nine months ago.
Friday's developments are the latest wrinkle in a case that has drawn international attention as questions persist over Whelan's treatment and the grounds of his arrest. The US Embassy first publicly protested Whelan's treatment in early July, and his family has said he needs more extensive medical care. Whelan's brother, David, told CNN in early July that his brother was getting only "first aid level" help.
Earlier this year, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told the Russian news agency RIA-Novosti that the government had ruled out the possibility of exchanging Whelan for Maria Butina, saying Whelan had yet to be sentenced in court. Butina is a Russian national currently serving an 18-month sentence in the US after pleading guilty to acting as unregistered foreign agent.