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Moscow court postpones start of US Marine vet Paul Whelan trial due to coronavirus

Then-Staff Sgt. Paul N. Whelan, adjutant, Marine Air Control Group 38 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing (Forward), pictured before the Kremlin in 2007. (Cpl. James B. Hoke/U.S. Marine Corps)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The trial of a former U.S. Marine held in a Moscow prison on espionage charges has been postponed for two weeks.

Russian news agencies reported on March 27 that the trial of Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian, and Irish passports, was delayed because of “restrictions imposed over the coronavirus.”

“The court hearing in the Paul Whelan case will not take place on March 30. It has been postponed until April 13,” a spokeswoman for the Moscow City Court told Interfax.

Russian courts have suspended many court proceedings over the coronavirus outbreak and banned the public from the hearings.

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At a preliminary hearing held behind closed doors on March 23, the Moscow City Court extended Whelan’s detention until September 13.

The 50-year-old Whelan was arrested in a hotel room in Moscow in December 2018 and is accused of receiving classified information.

He was charged with espionage, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

Whelan denies the charges and says he was framed. His family said that at the time of his arrest he was in Moscow for a wedding.

U.S. officials have urged Moscow to release Whelan and criticized the Russian authorities for their “shameful treatment” of him.

Last week, Whelan’s brother said that U.S. Embassy officials had been barred from visiting the detainee in Moscow’s Lefortovo detention center due to the coronavirus outbreak.

David Whelan said his brother had made several requests to have a family phone call since his arrest but “all were declined.”

The coronavirus pandemic “only heightens our worries about Paul’s peril and false imprisonment,” David Whelan said.