Whelan family gets ‘proof of life’

Paul Whelan remains at this Russian prison camp, while Brittney Griner is on her way back to the U.S. -Courtesy Elizabeth Whelan

There was a sense of relief Friday for the family of Paul Whelan. After more than a week of not hearing from their loved one imprisoned in Russia, the Whelan family reported Friday that Paul Whelan phoned his parents at 5:30 am Eastern Time.

“Paul said he’d been given a ‘special dispensation’ to phone home, so we know it wasn’t a technical issue about the phone calls; he had been prohibited for some reason,” David Whelan wrote in an email. “Paul is at LPU-21, the hospital prison. He did not say why he was there, but did say he would call again later, and our parents think he is returning to IK-17 today. So the call at least acts as a ‘proof of life,’ even if nothing else has been explained: when Paul went there, why, why the calls stopped, why the U.S. Embassy had to seek information about his whereabouts and the Russian authorities refused to respond, etc.”

As The Times reported earlier this week, family members of Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned for nearly four years on what they call trumped-up espionage claims, were concerned about Paul because they had not heard from him on Thanksgiving or their father’s 85th birthday. Paul’s sister is Vineyard artist Elizabeth Whelan, who told us the family is deeply concerned about how unsettled things are in Russia at the moment because of the ongoing war in Ukraine. 

“We’re glad Paul was able to wish our dad a belated happy birthday,” David Whelan wrote. “Paul was aware that people were looking for where he was, but the prohibition on phone calls meant he couldn’t do anything about it.”

He went on to thank the Public Monitoring Committee, Paul’s lawyer, the U.S. State Department, and the media for their efforts to help the family connect with Paul. 

On Sunday, David Whelan followed up with an email saying Paul was never ill, and was not given any treatment at the hospital. The family believes he was moved because of ongoing “mercenary recruiting from among the prison population” for the war in Ukraine.