Paul Whelan, the former U.S. Marine who has been imprisoned in Russia since 2018, has reportedly been assaulted by a fellow inmate at a remote labor camp.
In an audio clip obtained by CNN, Whelan said he was struck in the face "with a closed fist" by a Turkish prisoner with anti-American views, who then tried to strike Whelan again with an open palm.
“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 in the statement shared with the outlet. “There are no guards on the factory floor and it was quite difficult for me to find prison staff to assist.”
Whelan added that he reported it to prison staff but is seeking to speak with a prosecutor so he can press charges. A State Department spokesperson told CNN they've been in contact with Whelan and understood he was receiving medical treatment after the incident.
Since his arrest in a Russian hotel in 2018, the U.S. has listed him as "wrongfully detained." Meanwhile, Whelan's family has repeatedly advocated for his release, and suffered heartache as they see him get passed up in prisoner swaps — including the high-profile deal made to bring WNBA star Brittney Griner home last December, swapping her for notorious Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout.
The Biden administration says the Kremlin has remained staunchly opposed to releasing Whelan from Russian custody. He was convicted in 2020 of espionage by a Moscow court and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
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