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After 2,000 days in Russian prison, former marine demands action from the Biden government

Paul Whelan, an American detained in Russia, completed another grim milestone this week, surpassing 2,000 days in Russian custody. He told CNN that “it’s just an incredible amount of time” to spend in detention “for a crime that never occurred.”

Whelan called on the Biden administration to take “decisive action” to bring him and fellow detained American journalist Evan Gershkovich home.

“When you think about two thousand days, how long that really is, how many years, how many months, it’s an incredible number,” said Whelan, who called exclusively to CNN on Friday (21) from his remote penal colony in Mordovia, Russia.

“You go to university to get a bachelor’s degree – it’s four years. Generally, you are in high school for three or four years. Even people who join the army serve four years. So when you think about five and a half years, it’s just an incredible amount of time,” he added.

Paul Whelan, who was declared wrongfully detained by the US State Department, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison in 2020 on espionage charges that he has consistently and vehemently denied.

While he believes the U.S. government took his case seriously, the former Marine told CNN he wishes it was taken “more seriously.”

“Decisive action should be taken,” Whelan said. “The U.S. needs to go out and do something — fill Guantanamo Bay with Russian officials, arrest Russian spies, do something that makes the Kremlin sit up and take notice and say, ‘Okay, yes, now it’s time for us to get Evan back. and Paul, and then we want back what you have from us, and we’ll call it a day,” he described.

“Until decisive action is taken, until there is a strong response to this type of behavior, they will continue to grab people like Trevor (Reed) and Brittney (Griner) and Evan and others,” he said. A number of other Americans – Gordon Black, Alsu Kurmasheva and Ksenia Karelina – have been arrested in recent months but have not been designated as wrongfully detained by the US State Department.

Whelan said he was aware that Gershkovich’s trial is scheduled to begin behind closed doors in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg next week. Gershkovich, who was declared unjustly detained, was also accused of espionage, which he denies.

Whelan speculated that “it could be an important milestone in your case, as well as mine,” because “Russians generally want convictions in these cases so they can claim legitimacy regardless of the facts.”

“People here don’t say they’re going to trial. They don’t say they will seek justice. They say they will get a sentence, they will be convicted. And that’s it. There is no criminal justice system here. There is no judicial system. It’s just a system that the government has operated for many years, putting people in prison for all kinds of dubious charges and dubious events. And in my case, that’s 100% true, and I’m sure in Evan’s case, that’s 100% true. But people go to trial here and are automatically guilty, and then they get a sentence, and that’s it,” he said.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller said the U.S. government “will continue to work every day to bring Evan Gershkovich and Paul Whelan home.”

“It’s something we’re constantly working on and pursuing,” he said at a State Department meeting last week. “We put a substantial offer on the table to secure the release of Evan and Paul Whelan a few months ago, as we said publicly; we continue working to secure his release. We don’t talk about the details of this publicly, as has always been the case, but it is a top priority for the Secretary and the President.”

A State Department official told CNN on Friday (21) that “two thousand days is a long time for Paul to remain unjustly detained in Russia”, adding: “our hearts go out to Paul and his family, who feel the pain of separation in a way that very few people have experienced .”

Meanwhile, Whelan remains detained in a remote prison camp in Mordovia – about eight hours away from Moscow – where he does manual labor in a clothing factory.

“Everything is dusty and dirty and unpleasant. And you do everything you can just to stay cool and clean,” he described to CNN . “The food they serve us is horrible. We really depend on personal shopping to stay healthy. Medical care is nil. There is no dental care.”

“It’s the worst environment you can imagine. I mean, it’s unbelievable that anyone could consider this human rights. It’s not something you can get used to,” Whelan said.

Source: CNN Brasil

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