Convicted US spy attacked in Russian prison
Former US Marine Paul Whelan, who is serving a prison sentence for espionage in Russia, has been injured in an altercation with a fellow inmate, the Russian authorities said. He was reportedly attacked by a prisoner of Turkish origin.
Whelan is serving his sentence at Penal Colony Number 17 in Russia’s Mordovia region. According to the Federal Penitentiary Service, a “personal dispute” between Whelan and another inmate had led to a “conflict situation” in the prison workshop, during which Whelan was “struck in the face with a hand.”
Corrections officers “immediately” intervened and broke up the fight, officials said. They added that the American was then taken to the medical wing and treated for “a bruise under an eye.” The incident was caught on security cameras and is under investigation, according to officials.
Prison authorities provided no additional details. The Russian news agency Interfax, however, cited a person familiar with the matter as saying that “an inmate from Türkiye” had attacked Whelan because of unspecified “political differences.”
CNN cited an audio statement from Whelan, in which he said that on Tuesday he “was assaulted by a Turkish prisoner, 50 years old, who has recently arrived at the prison and has anti-American leanings.” According to the statement, the inmate struck Whelan “with his closed fist” and then tried to strike him “with his open hand.” Whelan went on to state that the attacker was eventually stopped by other prisoners, and that no guards were present at the factory when the fight happened.
“I am asking to speak to the prosecutor in order to press charges for the assault,” Whelan said, adding that “the prison is taking the incident seriously.”
A State Department spokesperson told CNN that the US Embassy in Moscow had contacted Whelan over the phone and understood that “he is receiving medical treatment following this incident.” The spokesman urged Russia to ensure Whelan’s safety. Whelan’s Russian lawyer, Olga Karlova, told Interfax that she is also in contact with him.
Whelan, who holds US, Irish, Canadian and British passports, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 after accepting a flash drive with classified documents from an undercover officer of the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB).
He was convicted of espionage and sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020. Whelan has denied the allegations, while the US insists that the charges against him are politically motivated. Whelan’s name regularly comes up in reports about potential prisoner swaps between Moscow and Washington.