The family of Paul Whelan, who has been imprisoned in a Russian jail on what federal officials classify as wrongfully detained on espionage charges, say that he was attacked by a fellow inmate last week.
Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that Paul was struck in the face while working at a sewing station, causing his glasses to break. Other inmates stepped in to prevent further attacks, the Whelan family said.
The statement says that Paul Whelan called it a “minor” attack, and the prison system is taking the incident seriously, but the provocation highlights the dangers of the labor camp where he is being detained.
“He is also concerned that these sorts of attacks can occur any time and, due to the various sharp implements in the workshop, including the shears the other prisoner was holding today, could escalate into a far more serious attack,” the statement reads. “Paul is a target because he is an American, and anti-American sentiment is not uncommon among the other prisoners.”
Whelan’s sister, Edgartown artist Elizabeth Whelan, said in an email to The Times that Tuesday’s incident highlights the urgency of bringing Paul home.
“The longer Paul is held, the greater the risk to him, and this provocation is just the latest in the almost five years of aggression Russia has displayed in their continuing wrongful detention of my brother,” she said.
The White House appears to be continuing to work on Whelan’s case. Earlier this year, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken renewed attention on Whelan, in a statement following the arrest and detainment of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, where he urged the Kremlin to immediately release both detainees.
Pres. Joe Biden said last week that he isn’t giving up trying to bring Whelan home, as well as jailed American journalist Gershkovich. A reporter asked for a statement from the president while the Bidens visited the Nantucket Fire Department on Thanksgiving.
“President Biden’s words meant a lot to our family and to Paul, to whom we relayed them,” a statement from the family reads, following the president’s remarks. “Hopefully they are not just words. Five years as a Russian hostage will be a grim milestone.”
On Saturday, U.S. Representative Bill Keating also addressed Whelan’s lengthy detainment.
“Today marks Paul Whelan’s 1800th day in wrongful detention, a solemn day in five years of misery for him and his family,” Keating shared on X (formerly known as Twitter).
“While Paul has endured unimaginable suffering, I know he continues to remain hopeful and strong. Russia must release Paul immediately, and all other wrongful detainees.”