A U.S. citizen and former Marine who remains wrongfully jailed in Russia is asking why he is still imprisoned when his fellow American captive, Trevor Reed, was freed in a prisoner swap on Wednesday.
“Why was I left behind? While I am pleased Trevor is home with his family, I have been held on a fictitious charge of espionage for 40 months,” Paul Whelan asked in a statement reviewed by CNN on Wednesday. “The world knows this charge was fabricated. Why hasn’t more been done to secure my release?”
In December 2018, Whelan was arrested in Moscow and charged with espionage. He was later convicted in a trial that U.S. officials called unfair and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
Whelan’s family said that while they are happy for Reed, the news of his release triggered “varied emotions” and questions.
Paul Whelan’s sister, Elizabeth, told CNN that officials called her in the early morning on Wednesday “to let us know that Trevor was coming back and Paul was not.”
“I had barely time to alert my parents and brothers when it was all over the news,” she said, noting that she “was unhappy that we were given so little time to absorb this bad news.”
Elizabeth Whelan said her parents “were just devastated, completely crushed.” To make matters worse, Paul Whelan heard of Reed’s release on Russian television and “was very upset.”
“When I had a virtual call with the SPEHA group later that day I let them know in no uncertain terms what I thought of the administration’s terrible decision to leave Paul behind,” she said, referring to the special presidential envoy for hostage affairs. “I expect to continue communication with State and the NSC on an extremely regular basis until Paul is returned also.”
President Joe Biden’s administration celebrated Reed’s return, calling it a “testament to the priority my Administration places on bringing home Americans held hostage and wrongfully detained abroad.”
The administration also promised to continue working on Paul Whelan’s safe return to “the loving arms of family and friends.”
“I am glad that President Biden reiterated this morning his vow to bring Paul home. Because otherwise it feels as though his pledge ‘not to walk away’ from Paul, given last summer in Geneva, feels hollow today,” Paul Whelan’s brother David said.
State Department spokesman Ned Price reiterated the administration’s position that Whelan is “wrongfully detained in Russia” and White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the administration will “continue to advocate for [his] immediate and unconditional release.”
“Obviously, our objective continues to bring Paul Whelan home, and any American who is not with their family and is being detained overseas, but I’m just not going to get into more details because I want to maintain the protection of our process,” Psaki added.