Rep. Haley Stevens (D-Mich.) re-upped calls for the release of American Paul Whelan from Russian custody on Thursday, five years after he was apprehended.
“Five years is five years too long, Paul Whelan should be home right now,” she said on X, formerly Twitter. “No American should be held for half a decade after a false arrest and sham trial. I’m calling on Vladimir Putin to release Paul now.”
Whelan, who lived in Stevens’s district before being detained, was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges. The Russian government alleged Whelan traded information with a Russian intelligence officer, which Whelan and the U.S. government denied.
American officials claim Whelan was framed and is being held illegally as a political prisoner.
He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020. Efforts at a prisoner swap between the U.S. and Russia have not progressed, and Whelan told WTOP this week that he feels abandoned in Russia.
“At this point, the five-year mark, I’m extremely concerned about being left behind a third time,” Whelan said, referring to previous U.S.-Russia prisoner swaps. “I’m concerned that the Biden administration will work out a deal for [The Wall Street Journal reporter] Evan [Gershkovich] to be returned home, leaving me here a third time.”
The two nations have so far not been able to come to an agreement for his release.
“I know the U.S. have all sorts of proposals, but it’s not what the Russians want,” he told the BBC last week. “So they go back and forth, like throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what sticks.”
“The problem is, it’s my life that’s draining away while they do this. It’s been five years!” he added.
Previous prisoner swaps included one for WNBA star Brittney Griner last year and former marine Trevor Reed earlier in 2022. Negotiations are also underway for the release of Gershkovich, who was arrested this year while working for the Journal.
A State Department spokesperson said earlier this month that Russia rejected a “significant proposal” to free both Whelan and Gershkovich, but they added the department will continue “to do everything we can to try and bring both of them home.”
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