Wrongfully detained American Paul Whelan was attacked Tuesday by a fellow prisoner at the Russian labor camp where he’s serving a 16-year sentence, his family said.
According to his brother David Whelan, Paul detailed the attack in a phone call to their parents.
Paul Whelan said another prisoner blocked a production line where he was working at a sewing table. After he repeatedly asked the other inmate to move, according to David Whelan, “the prisoner hit Paul in the face, breaking Paul’s glasses in the process, and attempted to hit him a second time.”
David Whelan added, “Paul stood up to block the second hit and other prisoners intervened to prevent the prisoner continuing to attack Paul.”
Paul Whelan described the attack as “relatively minor” according to his brother, though the American detainee did report it to a prison official.
David Whelan further noted that his brother is “concerned that these sorts of attacks can occur any time and, due to the various sharp implements in the workshop including the shears the other prisoner was holding today, could escalate into a far more serious attack,” adding that Paul is a target because he’s an American.
Paul Whelan was arrested in 2018 on what his family and the U.S. government say are fabricated charges of spying. His family says he was merely in Moscow for a friend’s wedding and was given a USB drive.
The U.S. State Department has designated Whelan as “wrongfully detained,” which shifts supervision of that person’s case to a specialized State Department section, called the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. That department is focused on negotiating for the release of captives.
In August Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Whelan, telling him to “keep the faith and we’re doing everything we can to bring you home as soon as possible.”