Wednesday 26 June 2019

Russian 'spy' marine 'not allowed to use English'

Former US marine: Paul Whelan is escorted into a court hearing. Photo: Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo
Former US marine: Paul Whelan is escorted into a court hearing. Photo: Reuters/Shamil Zhumatov/File Photo

Andrew Osborn

A former US marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying is being illegally isolated in a Moscow pre-trial detention centre and prevented from communicating with visitors, Russian rights activists and US diplomats said.

Paul Whelan, who holds Irish, US, British and Canadian passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on December 28 and accused of espionage after being handed a flash drive he claimed he thought contained holiday photos, but which actually held classified information.

Mr Whelan (49) who faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted, believes he was framed and that the case against him is politically motivated revenge for US sanctions imposed on Russia.

He used a court hearing last month to say that his life had been threatened by a Russian investigator and that he was being harassed in custody in an effort to force him to talk.

Andrea Kalan, a spokeswoman for the US embassy in Moscow, said that officials at the Moscow prison where he was being held ahead of his trial were blocking human rights activists from communicating with Mr Whelan.

"What are investigators hiding?" Ms Kalan, who has previously complained about a lack of evidence in the case, wrote on Twitter.

She referred to an article by a member of Russia's presidential human rights council who has visited Mr Whelan in jail at least three times.

The article by Eva Merkacheva, a journalist for the 'Moskovsky Komsomolets' newspaper and member of the rights council, said guards at Lefortovo jail had prevented her and officials who monitor prison conditions from communicating with Mr Whelan in English, the only language the former marine speaks.

"They (guards) consider that Paul might pass us a secret code," Ms Merkacheva wrote, saying Mr Whelan's cell door had been slammed in their face after he had addressed them in English.

"The scene was not simply ugly, but harrowing," she said. "We didn't find out what it was he wanted to complain about."

Ms Merkacheva said the authorities had not allowed the use of an interpreter either, and that one of the few things they had managed to hear from Mr Whelan was that the investigator had for two months not allowed him access to any dictionaries.

"Our view that something strange is going on with Paul Whelan has only been reinforced," she said, adding that there was nothing in Russian law to justify the prison's decision to ban the use of English.

She said the rights council, which advises Russian President Vladimir Putin, would write to the prosecutor general's office to challenge the legality of the language ban.

Irish Independent

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