The U.S. Department of State said Thursday that it is "once again" calling on Russia to release imprisoned American Paul Whelan. The State Department called it an "appalling milestone" as Thursday marks five years that Whelan has been jailed in Russia on alleged espionage charges stemming from what he says was just a visit to the country to attend a friend's wedding.
National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said in a statement, "We continue to work intensively to bring him home to his loved ones. Our thoughts are with him and his remarkably strong family today."
Whelan, who has been jailed in Russia since 2018, was recently assaulted by another inmate while working at a remote labor camp. Whelan said he was struck in the face "with a closed fist by a Turkish prisoner who had expressed anti-American views.
"If I had known that there would be any sort of problem, I would never have come here,” Whelan said after his imprisonment in Russia.
He was initially taken into police custody in 2018 in a Moscow hotel, and the U.S. has labeled him as "wrongfully detained." His family has repeatedly called for his release since he was first put in jail.
Whelan spoke out again about his detention after another high-profile prisoner swap when American WNBA star Brittney Griner was brought back to the United States last December, when she was swapped for the notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
Whelan was convicted in 2020 of espionage by a Moscow court and sentenced to 16 years in prison. The Biden administration says the Kremlin has remained staunchly opposed to releasing Whelan from Russian custody.
In August, Whelan made arare appearance in avideo broadcast and posted online by Russian state media outlet Russia Today. In the video, it showed Whelan sewing materials wearing an inmate uniform in one of Russia's high-security prisons, where he had been jailed since 2020.
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