US ex-marine in Russian prison attacked by inmate after being left behind in Biden's Brittney Griner prisoner swap

Paul Whelan is serving a 16-year prison sentence on espionage charges in Mordovia.

Katie Daviscourt Seattle WA
Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan was allegedly attacked by another inmate in a Russian prison labor camp on Tuesday. He has been serving a 16-year prison sentence on espionage charges in Mordovia since 2020, allegations that Whelan strongly denies.

According to audio obtained by CNN, Whelan said he "was assaulted by a Turkish prisoner, 50 years old, who has recently arrived at the prison and has anti-American leanings."

Whelan, who suffered an abrasion beneath one of his eyes per a reported account from Russian authorities, claimed that the Turkish inmate attacked him with a closed fist and attempted to hit him again before other inmates intervened.

"I stood up to block the second hit, being concerned that he had sharp shears in his hand that could be used as a weapon. Other prisoners stopped him from further assault while I left the area, looking for guards," Whelan said, according to CNN. "There are no guards on the factory floor and it was quite difficult for me to find prison staff to assist."

The Mordovia Regional Prison Service confirmed the attack, according to Reuters, and said that prison guards took immediate steps to "stop the illegal actions."

After the incident, Whelan was transported to the medical bay to receive treatment. He said that the incident was reported to the deputy warden and explained that "the prison is taking the incident seriously."

"I am asking to speak to the prosecutor in order to press charges for the assault," Whelan said. The jailed Marine veteran said that his family has spoken with officials from Mordovia.

Dave Whelan, Paul's brother, said that the punch in the face by the inmate caused his brother's glasses to break, according to Reuters.

The U.S. State Department considers Whelan to be wrongly detained by the Russian government. He has been imprisoned for almost five years.

A State Department spokesperson had told CNN that they "are concerned about reports that Paul Whelan was assaulted by another prisoner in IK-17 on November 28."

"The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has been in contact with Paul via phone and we understand he is receiving medical treatment following this incident," the spokesperson said. "We call on Russia to ensure Paul Whelan and all U.S. citizen detainees are safe. We urge the Russian government to ensure fair treatment and appropriate medical care for all U.S. citizens detained in Russia."

"Russia should immediately release Paul Whelan," the spokesperson told the network.

Whelan was at the center of national headlines last year when he was not included in the prisoner swap that freed fellow Americans Brittney Griner and Trevor Reed from the Russian prison.

Whelan told CNN in October that he had a phone call with Biden's Secretary of State Antony Blinken in August and told the official to ensure that he is not left behind again. Whelan said that keeping him in the Russian prison is a death sentence.

He reportedly told the top US diplomat that "leaving me here the first time painted a target on my back and leaving me here the second time basically signed a death warrant" and added, "Unless they got me back, it could be quite challenging in the future, especially with my age and the sort of work we have to do from a health and safety point of view."

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