September 22, 2020
Today I had the opportunity to visit IK-17, a Russian penal colony in Mordovia where U.S. citizen Paul Whelan is being held. Mordovia is about an 8-hour drive outside of Moscow but it is almost five thousand miles from Michigan, where Paul ought to be – at home, with his family. Paul was in good spirits. It was a relief to see him in person. I last saw him in a courtroom in Moscow in June when he was convicted on secret evidence in a secret trial and received an outrageous 16-year sentence. Let me remind you again that Russian authorities repeatedly said that they caught Paul Whelan “red-handed,” yet they have never shown the world evidence of his guilt. No allowance was made during his secret trial for key defense witnesses to present testimony– witnesses who were unable to appear due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
As the U.S. Ambassador to Russia, I find this unacceptable. And, as a lawyer myself, I find this unthinkable. It runs contrary to all international legal norms, and contrary to the obligations of all members of the United Nations to the UN Declaration of Human Rights which outlines the rights of all people – Americans, Russians, all people – to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, and the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty by such a tribunal.
This did not happen in the case of Paul Whelan. He was not given a fair public hearing, and the court was neither independent nor impartial. And now, Paul Whelan languishes in a Russian labor camp, unjustly tried and convicted by a Russian court.
As long as I am here in Russia, as long as I am the U.S. Ambassador to the Russian Federation, I will keep advocating for Paul – for fair treatment, and for his immediate release. My colleagues and I will keep visiting him and assuring him of our support.
And I will continue to call on Russian authorities to correct this miscarriage of justice, to right the wrong, and to let Paul go home.
Paul belongs at home in Michigan with his family, not in a Russian labor camp.