Day 768 - Paul Whelan - IK-17 Mordovia Russia - February 3, 2021 - State Dept Listens

It is one thing to say that you are listening and another to make someone feels heard. Our family participated in U.S. Secretary of State Blinken's call with the relatives of American citizens held hostage or detained around the world. It was the first time our family has been able to speak with a Secretary of State, and the first time one has shown this level of concern about American hostages since Paul was wrongfully detained in 2018. We are grateful for the time Secretary Blinken took to speak and answer questions, and to the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs (SPEHA) staff for organizing it.

[Secretary Blinken’s Call With Families Of Loved Ones Held Hostage Or Wrongfully Detained Abroad - United States Department of State]
[Twitter @SecBlinken: ]
[Twitter @StateSPEHA: ]

It was a remarkable experience to see and hear from so many other families in the same situation. The number of participants - the Foley Foundation estimates there are over 40 publicly known cases of American hostages or detainees - seemed to emphasize how widespread hostage diplomacy has become. I felt hope, for Paul and others, that none of these cases were impossible, even though every case is challenging.

[List of publicly known hostages and detainees: Don't forget Americans held hostage abroad | TheHill ]

Paul has been able to speak to our parents by phone. Paul is sick - he's indicated he has a 102F temperature and that prisoners are sharing around any over-the-counter medications they can spare. Paul also said he was receiving antibiotics, although if he has the cold virus he thinks he has, it's not clear why the prison medical staff would prescribe them. He continues to struggle to call the US Embassy, as the prison warden will not approve the phone number he has been attempting to call. The goal appears to make consular support for Paul as difficult as possible.

These are Paul's challenges and every hostage has their own to struggle against. At times, a family can feel at sea in trying to help their loved one even in a situation like ours, where we have incredible support from government staff. I saw someone tweet that President Biden should order a hostage's freedom, but the hostage is at the mercy of the captor, regardless of the best intentions and support of the entire U.S. government.

It is one thing to talk about caring and it is another to act. This conference call with families was an action that showed that the State Department is listening. It was good to hear Secretary Blinken discuss the need to use relationships - with other US agencies and foreign nations - and tools - legislatively-enacted options like the Levinson Act for hostage support and for sanctions - to find ways to gain our family members' freedom. I will be looking forward to seeing those words become actions to try to bring American hostages home.