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Russia sentences fmr. US Marine to 16 years in prison for ‘spying charges’

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)
June 15, 2020

Russia has sentenced former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan to 16 years in prison for espionage despite evidence proving such, U.S. officials say.

Rebecca Ross, a State Department spokeswoman confirmed Whelan’s sentence in a Monday morning tweet attributed to the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan.

“Ambassador Sullivan: Today, #PaulWhelan was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia,” Ross tweeted. “This secret trial in which no evidence was produced is an egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms. @mfa_russia.”

Ross had also updated her Twitter profile picture with an image of Whelan behind bars. Whelan, 50, has already been held by Russian authorities for over a year and a half. He was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 while in the country to attend a friend’s wedding.

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Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for Whelan’s release in a Monday statement.

“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,” Pompeo said. “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 added, “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.”

Pompeo concluded his statement with a call for Russia to immediately release Whelan, who now faces 16 years at a maximum-security facility.

Whelan was accused of possessing a flash drive containing Russian “state secrets” when authorities raided his hotel room and arrested him in 2018. Whelan received a flash drive before his arrest and his lawyer has argued Whelan was expecting photos of his vacation, but was instead set up.

Witnesses for Whelan’s defense have not shown up to his trial, claiming concerns about possible coronavirus infection. Russian authorities also determined the trial must be held behind closed doors, given claims that their evidence contains classified material.

The Moscow City Court reportedly read out Whelan’s conviction and 16-year sentence Monday.

Whelan’s brother David told The Associated Press that his defense team plans to appeal the verdict.