Original Author: Jesus Jiménez
Paul Whelan, an American imprisoned in Russia, appeared in a video released on Monday by a Kremlin-backed news network, giving his family a chance to see him for the first time in three years.
Mr. Whelan, a former Marine serving a 16-year sentence on what U.S. officials say are bogus espionage charges, has been largely out of sight since he was convicted by a Russian court in June 2020, although he has been visited by Western diplomats.
In the video posted by RT — a state-owned English-language network previously known as Russia Today — Mr. Whelan is seen in several settings, including eating in a cafeteria. He appeared to be in good health and declined an interviewer’s request to ask him questions.
In an email to supporters, Mr. Whelan’s twin brother, David, said that Monday “was the first time I’ve seen what he really looks like since June 2020.”
“So thank you, Russia Today, because although your reporting is the worst sort of propaganda and you are the mouthpiece for war criminals, at least I could see what Paul looks like after all of these years,” he wrote.
David Whelan said the video was recorded in May. He added that his brother previously informed their parents that prison officials had punished him for his refusal to participate in the interview, including by taking some of his clothing.
Karine Jean-Pierre, the White House press secretary, said at a news briefing on Tuesday that “it was reassuring to see that he remains — and this is to use his brother’s words — ‘unbowed.’”
“Paul continues to show tremendous courage,” Ms. Jean-Pierre said. “That does not change that his circumstance are truly unacceptable, and we will continue to be very clear about that. Russia should release him immediately.”
President Biden has said he is working to secure the release of Mr. Whelan. The State Department tried for months to include him in the deal that freed the W.N.B.A. star Brittney Griner, who was arrested in a Russian airport shortly before the invasion of Ukraine and later pleaded guilty to drug charges.
Ms. Griner was released in December in exchange for Viktor Bout, a notorious Russian arms dealer known as the “Merchant of Death.”
Aside from diplomatic visits, communication by Mr. Whelan, a corporate security executive, has been limited to phone calls and a phone interview that he did with CNN in May.
Mr. Whelan, 53, and Evan Gershkovich — an American reporter from The Wall Street Journal arrested in March, also on espionage charges — have been designated by the United States as “wrongfully detained,” which means they are essentially considered political hostages.
David Whelan said in an interview in April that he would “be happy for the U.S. government to make whatever concessions they can to bring Paul home.”