Russia prolongs arrest of American accused of spying

Former US marine Paul Whelan denies charges of spying for the US, says he is a 'victim of political kidnap and ransom'.

    Former US Marine Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage as he attends a court hearing in Moscow [Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters]
    Former US Marine Paul Whelan stands inside a defendants' cage as he attends a court hearing in Moscow [Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters]

    A Russian court has extended the arrest for a former United States marine charged with espionage, who complained in court about abuse while in custody.

    Paul Whelan, 49, was arrested at the end of December in a hotel room in the Russian capital Moscow where he was attending a wedding.

    He was allegedly in possession of Russian state secrets and charged with espionage, which carries up to 20 years in prison in Russia.

    Whelan denies the allegations of spying for the US that his lawyers said stem from a sting operation.

    Whelan's lawyer has said his client was handed a flash drive that had classified information on it that he didn't know about.

    The court ruled on Friday to keep the Michigan resident, who also holds British, Irish and Canadian citizenship, behind bars for three more months.

    Whelan told reporters in court that he has been threatened and subjected to "abuses and harassment" in prison.

    'Retaliation for sanctions'

    "I haven't had a shower in two weeks. I can't use a barber, I have to cut my own hair," a visibly agitated Whelan said from the defendant's dock.

    "This is typical prisoner of war isolation technique. They're trying to run me down so that I will talk to them."

    Whelan further told reporters that he's a "victim of political kidnap and ransom".

    "There's obviously no credibility to this situation. This is retaliation for sanctions. There is absolutely no legitimacy," Whelan said.

    Andrea Kalan, a spokeswoman for the US Embassy in Moscow, said Friday that they are disappointed with the ruling, arguing there is "no evidence of any wrongdoing".

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    "The mature, civilised course would be to let Paul go home to his elderly parents, who are wondering if they'll see their son alive again," Kalan said.

    Rights activist Eva Merkachova, who is authorized to visit Moscow prisons, told the RIA Novosti news agency on Friday that the prison administration at the Lefortovo detention center where Whelan is being kept did not let her speak to the American because they were speaking English.

    She said she and another activist were told by a prison guard that they can only speak Russian on the premises and that Lefortovo refused to let in a certified translator.

    Mikhail Fedotov, chairman of the Russian presidential council for human rights, told Russian news agencies that members of his council will look into Whelan's complaints.

    Speculation has swirled that Whelan could be traded for Russian national Maria Butina, sentenced last month in the US for conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent.

    Whelan was detained two weeks after Butina confessed as part of a US plea deal. Russia's Foreign Ministry has brushed off such speculation.

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    SOURCE: News agencies