Paul Whelan Says He Was Punched in the Face at Russian Labor Campthedigitalchaps


Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on espionage charges the U.S. has called politically motivated, said he was attacked Tuesday by another man imprisoned in his Mordovia labor camp.

The former U.S. Marine told CNN in an audio statement that his alleged assailant had been a middle-aged Turkish prisoner “who has recently arrived at the prison and has anti-American leanings.” Whelan said that he had been working at a camp factory when the other man hit him in the face “with his closed fist.”

The prisoner tried to strike him again, but Whelan “stood up to block the second hit,” he said, “being concerned that he had sharp shears in his hand that could be used as a weapon.” Other prisoners then stepped in, halting the Turkish inmate’s assault. “There are no guards on the factory floor and it was quite difficult for me to find prison staff to assist,” Whelan added.

After a visit to the prison doctor, Whelan reported the attack to the deputy warden, and is looking to speak to prosecutors to press charges, according to CNN. The 53-year-old said that prison authorities are taking his report “seriously.”

A U.S. State Department spokesperson told CNN the U.S. government was aware of and “concerned” by the report of Whelan’s assault. The spokesperson said the American embassy in Moscow had been in contact with Whelan via phone, and confirmed that he had received medical treatment. They reiterated a call for Russia to release Whelan.

Whelan has served close to five years of a 16-year sentence he received in 2020. He was first arrested in Moscow in late 2018 on spying charges he has strongly denied. The U.S. State Department considers him to be wrongfully detained. His family, including his twin brother, David, have campaigned for his release, and urged the Biden administration to secure his freedom. David did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Tuesday.

President Biden last addressed the Marine’s imprisonment on Thursday, when he was asked by reporters about Whelan and other U.S. citizens detained in Russia, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. “We ain’t giving up,” Biden said.