Paul Whelan, a Michigan resident who is currently serving a 16-year sentence in a Russian prison, was attacked Tuesday afternoon by a fellow prisoner, Whelan’s brother David told supporters in an email.
Whelan has been detained in Russia for five years on an espionage conviction, which he and U.S. officials say was trumped up and continue to dispute. He is serving his sentence at a labor camp in the Mordovia province and was working at a sewing table when the assault happened, Whelan told his parents in a phone call on Tuesday.
A new prisoner reportedly blocked part of the production line and after being asked repeatedly to move, hit Whelan in the face. Whelan blocked a second blow but the first one broke his glasses. The other prisoners then intervened and stopped the attack from escalating further, David said in the email.
“Since the guards will not enter the workshop, Paul was at the mercy of this prisoner and had to go looking for a guard to report the attack to,” Whelan said. “Paul described the attack as relatively minor but has reported it to the prison camp’s deputy warden and he has asked the prison administration to allow him to speak to Mordovia prosecutor’s office for investigation.”
The Whelans have shared an audio recording of their phone call with Paul with the State Department and the National Security Council. David said his brother is concerned that similar or worse attacks can happen at any time because there are “various sharp implements,” such as shears, accessible in the workshop.
“Paul is a target because he is an American and anti-American sentiment is not uncommon among the other prisoners,” Whelan said. “It is too early to know whether they will take steps to ensure his safety in the future, both from this prisoner and others who may decide they have nothing to lose by attacking Paul.”
Whelan, 53, was a security executive for Michigan-based auto supplier BorgWarner and a former Marine. He has been detained in Russia since 2018. He was featured in a video broadcast by Russia’s government news network in August and visited by the U.S. ambassador to Russia in September. Ambassador Lynne Tracy reiterated U.S. officials’ interest in bringing Whelan home.
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