Who is Paul Whelan and why was he arrested?
On Monday, the news broke that Russia gave U.S. Citizen Paul Whelan a 16-year prison sentence for spying. Ahead of his conviction, Whelan held up a sign behind a glass screen with phrases, including “SHAM TRIAL”, “NO HUMAN RIGHTS”, and “DECISIVE ACTION FROM PM AND POTUS NEEDED”. The sign was in response to Whelan’s belief that his trial and conviction were “greasy, grubby Russian politics. Nothing more. Nothing less.”
Arrested in Moscow, Russia in 2018 for having a USB filled with “state secrets”, Whelan called on President Trump and the leaders of Ireland, the UK, and Canada to “end this political charade.”
Who is Paul Whelan?
Whelan is a citizen of the U.S., Ireland, the UK, and Canada. He served as a police officer in Michigan and then later joined the Marines. During his time in the Marines, Whelan made his first trip to Russia. Whelhan’s lawyer Vladamir Zherebenkov told CNN that Whelan felt followed by Russian special service since he began his visits to Russia.
Why was Whelan in Russia?
The former Marine was in Russia for a wedding when his arrest occurred. While he was in his hotel, an old friend visited his hotel room and handed him a USB. Whelan thought that the flash drive held holiday photos but instead, contained these “state secrets”. In just a few moments, Whelan’s hasty arrest would spark international condemnation.
Pompeo Responds to His Conviction
In response to Whelan’s conviction, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday, “the United States is outraged by the decision of a Russian court today to convict U.S. citizen Paul Whelan after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses.”
“We have serious concerns that Mr. Whelan was deprived of the fair trial guarantees that Russia is required to provide him in accordance with its international human rights obligations,” Pompeo went on. The U.S. ambassador to Russia, John Sullivan, said that Whelan could not choose a defense team or bring forth any witnesses in his defense.
Pompeo condemned the conviction when he stated, “the treatment of Paul Whelan at the hands of Russian authorities has been appalling. Russia failed to provide Mr. Whelan with a fair hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal, and during his detention has put his life at risk by ignoring his long-standing medical condition, and unconscionably kept him isolated from family and friends. We demand Paul Whelan’s immediate release.” His response comes as Paul Whelan’s brother, David, told CNN that he would like President Trump to bring his brother back to the United States.
Russian Officials Deny Whelan Access to a Doctor
In addition to this critique of Whelan’s inability to have a proper defense, Whelan’s family has concerns about his health as he received an emergency hernia surgery last month and the coronavirus pandemic continues to be a threat. In April, Russian officials denied Whelan access to a doctor who spoke English. They also refused to accept masks, gloves, and sanitizer from the U.S. Embassy.
David Whelan warned against travel to Russia, as he explained that his brother Paul was someone who went to Russia as a tourist. Paul Whelan was a fan of Russian culture, yet he ended up in what David calls a terrible situation. “I wouldn’t wish that on anybody going to any country,” David stated.