Oakland Press: Time for Paul Whelan’s release from Russia

Saturday, December 28th will mark one year since Novi resident Paul Whelan was abruptly arrested by Russian authorities while visiting for a friend’s wedding.

The Russians have accused Paul of espionage. However after a year in detention – without due process – there has been no credible evidence presented against Paul.

But here’s what we do know:

  • Paul’s health is suffering.
  • He is being held in poor conditions.
  • The Russians have severely limited his access to U.S. Embassy staff.

Simply put, with no tangible proof – we have every reason to believe Paul is being held for political reasons. The Russians must stop their political games and release him.

At every turn, the Russians have denied requests for more information and due process for Paul, along with universally recognized human rights.

Even the Russian government’s appointed lawyer for Paul conceded in May that the government “always roll[s] out what they have, but in this case, we’ve seen nothing concrete against Whelan in five months. That means there is nothing.’’

The fact that no evidence has been produced against Paul only reinforces that this is a political stunt. The Russian government needs to stop using innocent Americans as pawns in their games and end their unacceptable treatment of Paul.

As the Russians continue to extend Paul’s pre-trial detention, I’m concerned about Paul’s health. He was due to have a hernia operation shortly after he returned to Michigan in January 2019. But with his detention, he has not been able to receive the medical care he needs. In the very limited opportunities Paul has had to speak out, he has said he is being held in poor conditions – and even alleged abuse. And the Russians have rejected every effort from the U.S. to have an independent doctor consult with Paul.

Because our diplomats are being denied an opportunity to talk to him, we don’t know just how severe his condition has become.

Concerns about his health are only mounting as the Russians repeatedly delay his trial for no reason.

Over the past year, I have met with Paul’s family many times and have sought answers into why he was arrested in the first place. I’ve seen how his detention has taken a toll on his family – who just want this nightmare to end, so their brother and son comes home. They have no answers, and no guarantees that he’s going to be ok.

Despite that, Paul’s family has been relentless in highlighting his unjust detention. They have pressed forward at every opportunity.

They deserve to have their brother back in the U.S. with them, and it is time for the Russian government to release Paul.

We need to utilize every available and appropriate tool to bring Paul home.

I’ve helped lead members of the Michigan congressional delegation, Republican and Democrat, to call on Paul to be released, and I have appreciated the State Department and the U.S. Embassy in Moscow’s efforts to seek more answers.

As part of the next step, I’ve urged President Trump to direct his Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs to do all it can to work with the Whelan family and advocate directly on Paul’s behalf. We know this office has been effective recently: just this year, then-Ambassador Robert O’Brien – as head of the office – attended the trial of Rakim Mayers, also known as A$AP Rocky, in Sweden. A$AP Rocky was then released and is back in the United States.

The office was also involved in recently securing the release of Xiyue Wang – a history PhD candidate in Iran who was unjustly detained for three years on dubious charges of espionage.

In the Senate, I’m working to pass a resolution calling for Paul’s release. My resolution is straightforward and sends a clear message: the Russian government must either provide credible evidence against Paul, or release him immediately. I’m proud to work with Congresswoman Haley Stevens who is championing similar efforts in the House of Representatives.

As we approach one year since Paul’s arrest, I stand with his family in saying to the Russian government: let Paul go.

By:  U.S. Senator Gary Peters
Source: Oakland Press