Paul Whelan, an American jailed in Russia on espionage charges the U.S. has called politically motivated, was attacked Tuesday by another man at his Mordovia labor camp, his twin brother said.
David Whelan explained in a email to supporters that his brother had been “working at a sewing table” in a camp factory around 1:30 p.m. when the attack occurred.
“A new prisoner blocked part of the production line and Paul asked him to move out of the way,” David wrote. “After repeated requests, the prisoner hit Paul in the face, breaking Paul’s glasses in the process, and attempted to hit him a second time.”
Whelan had blocked the second strike before other prisoners intervened, David said. There had been no guards on the workshop floor at the time, but Whelan had reported the incident to the camp’s deputy warden.
“Paul says he believes the prison administration is taking the attack seriously,” he said in his email. “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.”
David told The Daily Beast that he had filed a formal complaint with the Mordovia prosecutor’s office and notified the regional commissioner for human rights.
“Paul is a target because he is an American and anti-American sentiment is not uncommon among the other prisoners,” David noted in his email, adding that his brother was “concerned” that another, more serious attack could occur “at any time.”
Whelan, a 53-year-old former Marine, earlier told CNN in an audio statement that his assailant had been a middle-aged Turkish prisoner who’d recently arrived at the camp. Whelan said that the other man had hit him “with his closed fist.”
A U.S. State Department spokesperson told CNN the U.S. government was aware of and “concerned” by the report of Whelan’s assault. The spokesperson said the American embassy in Moscow had been in contact with Whelan via phone. They reiterated a call for Russia to release Whelan.
Whelan has served close to five years of a 16-year sentence he received in 2020. He was first arrested in Moscow in late 2018 on spying charges he has strongly denied. The U.S. State Department considers him to be wrongfully detained.
President Joe Biden last addressed the Marine’s imprisonment on Thursday, when he was asked by reporters about Whelan and other U.S. citizens detained in Russia, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich. “We ain’t giving up,” Biden said.