On August 23, a Moscow court extended until October the pre-trial detention of Paul Whelan, an ex-U.S. Marine who was arrested in Russia in December 2018 on suspicion of spying. Whelan, who holds the citizenships of four nations, including the United States, said he was a “victim of a political kidnapping” and the accusations against him were a “politically-motivated sting.”
The United States Embassy in Moscow has demanded that Russian authorities release Whelan from prison, saying the conditions of his detention are inhumane and that he has been deprived of adequate medical help amid deteriorating health and isolation from his family.
During the course of Whelan’s detention, Russian authorities have pushed several false narratives.
First, Russia has insisted Whelan has no health issues requiring medical assistance. Moreover, in July, when the U.S. Embassy said Whelan’s health was deteriorating and he requested an independent medical examination, the Russian Federal Penitentiary Agency (FSIN) denied such a request had been made or that Whelan had any health issues requiring medical tests.
That claim is false, Paul’s brother David Whelan and lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov told Polygraph.info via phone.
“Paul has a number of medical issues, but the primary one is a hernia that is becoming more serious. He was scheduled to have surgery in January this year when he returned from Russia, but obviously he has never returned from Russia,” David Whelan said.
According to Zherebenkov, doctors at Moscow’s Hospital #20 examined Whelan on September 6, confirming that he was suffering from a hernia and that he needed surgery.
“We have been sending requests for a medical examination to the Ministry of Health and others, so he was examined last Friday,” Zherebenkov told Polygraph.info. “The doctors did not say the hernia was in an acute stage yet offered surgery, but Paul refused; he doesn’t trust the Russian doctors.”
Zherebenkov said Paul has chosen to manage the pain with medicine provided by the prison administration.
“He’s given No-Spa [a brand of antispasmodic drug also known as Doverin] every day for pain,” Zherebenkov said.
On September 2, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow posted on Twitter in Russian: “Paul Whelan's parents are celebrating their 59th wedding anniversary today. Paul Whelan hasn't heard their voices in over 8 months. Maybe the Russian government will let Paul call his parents and congratulate them personally? Stop the isolation #PaulWhelan @MID_RF
That tweet was not the first time the U.S. Embassy has claimed Whelan is isolated in prison. The U.S. has repeatedly demanded that the Russian government end Whelan’s isolation. Russia has responded by denying it has isolated Whelan, claiming he has been afforded all contacts and communications in accordance with Russian law.
That claim is false.
Russian law allows detainees at least one phone call a month with their families.. Vladimir Zherebenkov told Polygraph.info that Whelan, despite his repeated requests, has not been granted a single phone call during the course of his detention.
“Because there are no translators at Lefortovo it is impossible to control what Paul will be talking about with his relatives, so due to such technical reasons there has not been a single phone call and there is no such possibility in the future,” Zherebenkov said.
David Whelan confirmed to Polygraph.info that Paul requested but was denied the right to make phone calls.
“Paul sought phone call access but that was denied by FSB investigator Aleksei Khishnyak,” he said. “We don’t think that it would be safe for us to visit Russia while he is in prison and we have no other way to communicate with him.” David Whelan added that mail correspondence with his brother travels via special channels and takes a long time.
“There is a complication with Paul’s mail correspondence with the family due to censorship and translation,” Zherebenkov said. “There are no translators at Lefortovo, so the warden receives the letters, he then sends them to the FSB investigator, and the investigator sends them to the translator, then the entire process repeats in reverse order. This takes up to two months.”
Isolation and limited access to medical assistance are part of a Russian government pressure tactic to extract a confession from his brother on “completely bogus charges,” David Whelan said.
In covering his brother’s case, Russian media do not “seem to bother with the facts,” David Whelan said, instead feeding the public mainly disinformation and reporting what the government tells them.