Paul Whelan’s family continues to focus on his release as he approaches three years in Russian custody – CBS Detroit – World News

(CNN) — Almost three years after her brother was imprisoned in Moscow, Elizabeth Whelan has one goal in mind: to get him home.

Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen and former marine, was arrested in a Moscow hotel on December 28, 2018 and arrested on espionage charges, which he consistently and vehemently denies. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison in June 2020 in a trial denounced as unfair by US officials.

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“In the first few months it is very difficult not to get consumed with the emotions of the situation, to worry about the well-being of the loved one, to worry day and night and to do it in such a way that you can do your daily work can actually no longer perform or properly advocate, “said Elizabeth Whelan in an interview with CNN.

“And at some point you realize that you have to be sensible and organized and keep an eye on the goal, namely Paul’s release if you want to bring your loved one home, that’s not the right way.”

“You have to make your presence known”

MOSCOW, RUSSIA – JUNE 15, 2020: American citizen Paul Whelan attends a hearing in Moscow City Court on charges of espionage against Russia. Anton Novoderezhkin / TASS (Photo by Anton NovoderezhkinTASS via Getty Images)

The entire Whelan family worked hard to achieve this goal, she said. Her brother David acts as the spokesperson, her brother Andrew takes care of Paul’s personal affairs, and she has become an important interlocutor with officials in Washington. She found that the family is running a GoFundMe page to provide Paul with “food, paper, clothes, everything.”

Elizabeth Whelan made 16 trips to the country’s capital during her brother’s nearly three-year imprisonment – one trip that includes two ferries, a car, a bus, and a train each way from Chappaquiddick Island, Massachusetts, where she lives and works as an artist.

“An unfortunate component of standing up for someone wrongly imprisoned is having to make your presence known. There is always a crisis and people have to be reminded again and again that there is an American who is being held by a hostile foreign nation, often one with whom we have some relationship, and that this situation must come to an end ” said CNN.

She said she has had support from lawmakers, including those in Paul’s home state of Michigan such as Democrat MP Haley Stevens and Senator Gary Peters and her Massachusetts MP Bill Keating. She also praised the work of the President’s Special Envoy for Hostage Taking Roger Carstens and his team, as well as the US Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan and the team from the US Embassy in Moscow.

“To get Paul home, we support whatever the United States government wants to do,” she told CNN, but noted that she would like the US government to be more agile and quick to respond to cases of wrongful imprisonment reacted. Amid mounting tensions between the US and Russia, she is concerned about the potential impact on the case of her brother and Trevor Reed, another American imprisoned there.

“We are very concerned that if we get into a confrontation, our loved ones will get stuck behind enemy lines,” she said.

“Bound and determined to survive”

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She praised her brother’s perseverance, telling CNN that Paul Whelan “is committed and determined to survive this situation and he will not give in to the Russians. He will show no weakness. “

She said he faced retaliation from prison officials, including a time in solitary confinement.

On a June phone call to CNN, he described the dire conditions of the remote labor camp where he spends his days working in a clothing factory he called the “sweatshop”.

He said at the time that he had a persistent cough and bursitis in his elbow from factory work, and told CNN that “medical care is very difficult to get here”.

He told CNN that he got through his plight “day in and day out” and was trying to maintain “a positive mental attitude” about the situation.

Reading – his family sent him Thriller, his favorite genre – and writing letters to family, friends, and supporters credits him for helping his mind “stay in the right place”. His family said he wrote hundreds of letters while in detention.

His sister said talking on the phone with her parents played a crucial role in maintaining his mood, even though their 15-minute conversations are monitored.

Her brother “tries to keep the tone of most of his calls relaxed,” she said, because her parents are in their 80s and “he doesn’t really want to worry her about things that might not be great in prison.”

He’s also worried about his beloved family dog, Flora, who, according to his sister, is particularly fond of him and has grown old.

“My instruction to my parents at the start of this ordeal was that they ‘stay on this side of the grass and also make sure Flora does the same!” “Elizabeth Whelan told CNN. “But after almost three years there is nothing more you can do but keep you as happy and healthy as possible and hope for the best.”

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