Tomorrow [March 5] is Paul Whelan's 50th birthday and he will be spending it in Lefortovo prison. He has been a hostage of the Russian Federation for over 14 months in what can only be described using US Secretary of State Pompeo's term "coercive detention."
Paul was visited last Thursday by representatives of the UK Embassy in Moscow, including HM Consul Sarah Pilbeam. The UK consular staff delivered a food care package from UK relatives, as well as 78 letters from family and friends. We are grateful to all of the consular staff from the UK, Canada, Ireland, and United States who have supported Paul over the past 14 months and who remain our primary information conduit with him.
Olga Karlova, his English-speaking defense lawyer, confirmed last Friday [2/28] what we had read in Russian media: that the defense had finished the evidence review. His lawyer Vladimir Zherebenkov confirmed that the purported "evidence" does not support the charge of espionage and he has filed a motion to have the charges dismissed. Unfortunately, as Mr. Zherebenkov has noted in the past, justice isn't always to be found in Russia. The defense expects to receive a response to the petition to dismiss charges in the first week of March.
[Zherebenkov remarks 2/28]: https://ria.ru/
20200228/1565342387.html ; petition timing: https://www.rbc.ru/ rbcfreenews/ 5e592dd49a79475c252e7a58 ]
Russian law enforcement paranoia about Paul underlies much of his mistreatment. One Russian prison monitor speculated that Paul can't see an English-speaking doctor in case the doctor is a spy. Paul's last visit with his lawyers without FSB supervision was in August 2019. Unlike so many other detainees, he has been denied phone calls despite making 5 petitions to FSB Investigator Alexei Khiznyak to be allowed to phone home. The FSB claimed that they had gathered evidence to support their false accusations but are unable to allow Paul normal communication and medical care. Since Paul is the only person not under a gag order in his case, his continued isolation underscores how unwilling the FSB is to have the truth aired.
[Eva Merkacheva interview with Interfax: https://www.
We have communicated with Paul and he understands that he - like 100% of foreign citizens charged with espionage by the Russian Federation - will be found guilty at the secret trial. The United States government's continued support helps his morale in the face of this unjust outcome. The recent remarks by Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Robinson reiterate that there is no evidence to support the charges against Paul, and that he should be freed.
[DAS Robinson remarks: https://www.rferl.
org/a/u-s-calls-on-russia- hand-over-mh17-evidence-let- whelan-go/30464873.html ]
We will continue to watch as the pre-trial process unfolds and look for his trial to be scheduled. It is a necessary evil that he must have his trial and be convicted before discussions about securing his freedom can commence. The Canadian Embassy hopes to visit him tomorrow on his birthday and deliver our best wishes on this milestone birthday. Hopefully he will celebrate his next one at home among family.