Paul Whelan's Family Finally Hears From Him in Russia

American prisoner is allowed to call parents from a hospital, but not much else is known
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 30, 2022 10:00 AM CST
Updated Dec 2, 2022 10:05 AM CST
Family Worried After Silence From Paul Whelan
Paul Whelan, a former US marine who was arrested for alleged spying, listens to the verdict in a courtroom at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, June 15, 2020.   (Sofia Sandurskaya, Moscow News Agency photo via AP, File)
UPDATE Dec 2, 2022 10:05 AM CST

After a worrisome pause in communication, the family of imprisoned American Paul Whelan says he was allowed to call them Friday from Russia. Whelan called his parents early Friday, marking the first time the family had heard from him since Nov. 23, said his brother David, per the AP. Paul Whelan told his parents he was given special permission to call from a hospital, though the reason for his admittance to the hospital remains unclear. "So the call at least acts as a 'proof of life' even if nothing else is explained," said David Whelan.

Nov 30, 2022 10:00 AM CST

The family of Russian prisoner Paul Whelan says they're unsure of his whereabouts after being told that he was moved to a prison hospital. Whelan, one of the Americans included in a proposed prisoner swap for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, is serving 16 years in prison in Russia for spying, though he denies wrongdoing. His brother told Reuters on Tuesday that his family hadn't heard from him in almost a week after "unclear messages from the prison staff that he was moved to the prison hospital." Staff at the penal colony in Mordovia said he was moved Nov. 17, a day after US diplomats visited. But David Whelan said Paul made no mention of moving in daily conversations with his parents between Nov. 17 and Nov. 23.

Whelan had always mentioned a move to the prison hospital when it occurred before, David said. And the diplomats thought he had seemed healthy. "Paul was not complaining of any health conditions that required hospitalization, so has there been an emergency?" his brother asked. "Is he unable to make calls? Or is he really still at [the penal colony] but he's been put in solitary and the prison is hiding that fact?" David said Paul, a former Marine, told his family to reach out to the US Embassy in Moscow if they hadn't heard from him in more than three days. Embassy staff confirmed they hadn't heard from him either, per Reuters.

The Embassy's Charge d'Affaires Elizabeth Rood said Monday that Russia had "not provided a serious response" to proposals that could see Whelan and fellow American Brittney Griner, a WNBA star serving nine years at a penal colony for bringing cannabis oil into Russia, return home. The US is believed to have proposed freeing Bout in exchange, though Rood said the US had also "proposed alternatives," per Reuters. Per the AP, Russia's Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Tuesday that "there have been a few occasions when it seemed that a decision in favor of [a deal] was about to be made, but it never happened." He added there was still "a chance" of a deal by the end of the year. (Read more Paul Whelan stories.)

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