‘Paul is rotting in a Russian Gulag’: Detained American Paul Whelan’s sister demands a more ‘coordinated effort’ from the Biden administration to free ex-Marine as State official meets jailed basketball player Brittney Griner’s WNBA team
- Paul Whelan was jailed for 16 years in Russia after being convicted of spying
- US officials say his trial was not fair and are working to secure his release
- On Tuesday his sister Elizabeth demanded the Biden administration do more
- ‘Paul is rotting in a Russian Gulag waiting for someone to sort this out,’ she said
- Another American, Trevor Reed, was freed in April as part of a prisoner swap
- Elizabeth Whelan urged US authorities to be ‘creative’ in seeking solutions
The sister of Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been detained in Russia for four years, called on Tuesday for the Biden administration to do more to bring him home.
He is serving a 16-year sentence after being convicted of spying following what American officials said was an unfair trial.
His sister Elizabeth said U.S. authorities had not managed to explain how they had freed Trevor Reed, another American wrongfully detained, in a prisoner swap but had yet to secure her brother’s release.
‘But I think what we are really concerned about is there seems to be a lack of a coordinated effort to bring Paul home and also other wrongful detainees,’ she said.
‘Also, trades are not the only tools that the US government could use.
‘And I’m really concerned that everybody’s backed themselves into corners about a trade or not a trade.
‘Meanwhile, Paul is rotting in a Russian Gulag waiting for someone to sort this out.’
Paul Whelan, a former U.S. 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
Elizabeth Whelan said she wanted a ‘more coordinated’ and ‘creative’ approach from the Biden administration in trying to bring her brother home from Russia where he is in prison
Whelan was detained at a Moscow hotel in December 2018 and arrested on espionage charges.
He has repeatedly protested his innocence but was convicted and sentenced in June 2020.
In contrast, Reed was freed in April after more than two years in detention. It came as part of a prisoner swap involving a Russian citizen convicted in the U.S. of drug trafficking.
Meanwhile, it emerged that State Department officials met Monday with members of WNBA team as they try to secure her release after being arrested in February.
Authorities said a search of her bag at an airport revealed vape cartridges containing a cannabis derivative.
In the case of Whelan, speculation has focused on the possibility of exchanging him for Viktor Boot – a Russian arms dealer nicknamed ‘The Merchant of Death.’
He was convicted in New York of conspiring to kill Americans, delivery of anti-aircraft missiles, and providing aid to a terrorist group and sentenced to 25 years in prison in 2011.
Elizabeth Whelan said she did not know exactly what was on the table, but urged the Biden administration to be creative.
‘And I would I guess we’re what we’re really looking for is we’re looking for the White House to change the rules of the game to you know, create a faster response, a more coordinated effort to get Paul out and most importantly you know, think about punishing these bad actors,’ she said.
‘You know, what’s happened to Paul is unconscionable.
Former US Marine Trevor Reed was exchanged for convicted Russian drug dealer Konstantin Yaroshenko during a prisoner swap that took place at a Turkish airport on Wednesday
‘And we really appreciate what Trevor Reed is is trying to do to help him and what we want to make sure is that the US government is not restricting their creativity in any way in dealing with this problem.’
With as many as 800 Russians in US prisons, she added, there were plenty of options for a deal.
‘And I think what’s really important is this idea that we need the executive agencies to get ahead of the game, not just be reacting to Russian demands,’ she said.
‘So our family has a lot of mixed emotions. We want Paul back any way we possibly can.
‘But we also want to make sure that whatever happens doesn’t make it even more difficult to get other detainees home.’
She spoke after the State Department confirmed that officials had met Griner’s Phoenix Mercury teammates.
‘There is a lot involved in getting her back home and safe, they´re working relentlessly,’ Mercury star Diana Taurasi said after the meeting in a release from the Mercury.
FILE – Phoenix Mercury center Brittney Griner during the first half of Game 2 of basketball’s WNBA Finals against the Chicago Sky, Oct. 13, 2021, in Phoenix. Brittney Griner is easily the most prominent American locked up by a foreign country
Brittney Griner has been able to receive emails and letters from WNBA players to an account Griner’s agent set up to allow them to communicate with her
‘We’re here to do whatever we can to amplify and keep BG at the forefront, which is more important than any basketball game and anything else that’s going on in our lives.
‘We want BG to come home as soon as possible, it’s number one on our list.
The administration has previously said that it is working to bring Griner home from Russia.
‘Knowing the State Department at the highest level, from U.S President Joe Biden to the team that is working on bringing back all Americans who are wrongfully detained, gives us a lot of confidence that they’re working on it,’ Taurasi said.
Griner was detained on Feb. 17 at an airport in Russia after authorities there said a search of her bag revealed vape cartridges containing a cannabis derivative.
In May, the State Department reclassified Griner as wrongfully detained and transferred oversight of her case to the State Department Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, or SPEHA.