American jailed for spying attacked in Russian prison by fellow inmate

The jailed former US Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a 16-year sentence for espionage at a maximum security prison in the Republic of Mordovia, southeast of Moscow, was punched in the face by a fellow inmate on Tuesday, Russian news agency Interfax reported.

The Mordovian Federal Penitentiary Service said that the disagreement arose from “an everyday matter” and confirmed that an unnamed inmate had hit Whelan in the face. A source told Interfax that the disagreement sprang from an “argument about politics with a prisoner from Turkey”.

Whelan’s lawyer, Olga Karlova, told Interfax that she had heard about the incident from her client’s brother, David Whelan. “We found out what happened from David. … We are monitoring the situation and are always willing to offer assistance. We know that David Whelan contacted the regional ombudsman about the incident,” she said.

David Whelan shared the news of his brother’s attack in a statement on Tuesday, saying that Whelan had been hit in the face and that his glasses had been broken. Other inmates eventually came to Whelan’s aid, his brother said.

“Paul is a target because he is an American, and anti-American sentiment is not uncommon among the other prisoners. … Paul says he believes the prison administration is taking the attack seriously,” he continued.

Paul Whelan, who has British, US, Irish and Canadian citizenship, was detained in Russia on suspicion of espionage in 2018 and was sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 for possession of state secrets, something Whelan has always denied.

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