Paul Whelan Attacked in Russian Prison, His Family Says

The family of Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia, said Wednesday that he had been attacked by a fellow prisoner in the labor camp where he has been serving a 16-year sentence on what the United States says are fabricated charges of espionage.

Mr. Whelan told his family in a phone call that he had been working on a production line at the prison on Tuesday when another prisoner hit him in the face, according to a statement from David Whelan, Paul’s brother. The assailant then tried to hit him again, he told his family, but he “stood up to block the second hit,” and other prisoners helped intervene.

Mr. Whelan described the attack as “relatively minor,” the statement said, but was afraid that such attacks could occur at any time and escalate into more serious ones, given “various sharp implements” available in the prison workshops.

“Paul is a target because he is an American, and anti-American sentiment is not uncommon among the other prisoners,” the family’s statement said.

Mr. Whelan, 53, a former U.S. Marine, was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and is being held at a high-security labor camp called IK-17, about an eight-hour drive east of Moscow.

The State Department said in a statement on Wednesday that officials at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow had talked to Mr. Whelan on the phone and that “we understand he is receiving medical treatment following this incident.”

“We urge the Russian government to ensure fair treatment and appropriate medical care for all U.S. citizens detained in Russia,” the statement said, adding that Russia “should immediately release Paul Whelan.”

The Biden administration considers Mr. Whelan tantamount to a political hostage, and the extreme tensions between Washington and Moscow over the war in Ukraine have complicated efforts to win his release.

David Whelan said in an interview in April that he would “be happy for the U.S. government to make whatever concessions they can to bring Paul home.”

Anushka Patil contributed reporting.

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