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Tuesday 3 December 2019

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Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan in a Moscow court earlier this year.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow has rejected a Russian claim that a former U.S. Marine it is holding on spying charges is feigning illness and lying about his ill treatment in custody to draw attention to his case.

Referring to a December 3 Russian Foreign Ministry statement that made the allegation, Rebecca Ross, the spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Moscow, said it was "a new edition of pulp fiction" and "factually incorrect."

Ross said U.S. national Paul Whelan's health is actually "deteriorating" while calling for an independent medical examination to "clear up" the state of his health, according to a series of tweets she published the same day.

Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian, and Irish passports, was accused of espionage after agents from Russia's Federal Security Service detained him in a Moscow hotel room in December last year.

Whelan, who is being held in pretrial detention, denies Moscow's allegations and says accusations against him are politically motivated.

At court hearings, Whelan accused prison guards of ill treatment during his incarceration and said that his complaints are systematically ignored.

In August, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow demanded immediate access to Whelan after his lawyer said he was suffering from a groin hernia that prison authorities were aggravating.

However, the Russian Foreign Ministry on December 3 said Whelan's allegations of ill treatment had not checked out and that diplomats were being granted regular access to him in custody.

"They [the diplomats] know perfectly well that the public statements by the accused about certain abuses and even threats [made to his] life in pretrial detention are nothing more than the defense's provocatory line to help artificially create noise around his person," the ministry said in a statement.

It said the detention facility's doctors as well as a special clinic had not found Whelan to have any serious ailment.

"So there is no threat to Whelan's health, and the pretending which he is periodically resorting to is apparently part of the training for U.S. intelligence officers," the ministry said.

Ross pointed out that Whelan hasn't been able to make one phone call since his detention and affirmed he "is not a spy," accusing the Russian Foreign Ministry of "distorting the facts."

"Enough is enough. Let Paul go home," she tweeted.

With reporting by Reuters and TASS
Russian President Vladimir Putin

Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a bill that amends an existing law on media outlets deemed "foreign agents" that critics say is used to muzzle dissent, limit news plurality, and discourage the free exchange of ideas.

The new law gives the authorities the power to label reporters who work for organizations officially listed as "foreign agents" as foreign agents themselves.

The label will be applied to individuals who collaborate with foreign media outlets and receive financial or other material support from them.

Should anything a foreign media outlet publish violate Russian regulations, "the new norms allow the Russian government to block the websites of foreign agents or legal entities established by them," TASS reported.

Russia passed the original "foreign agent" law -- which requires all NGOs receiving foreign funding to register -- in 2012 following the biggest wave of anti-government protests since Putin came to power. Putin blamed Western influence and money for those protests.

Critics of the law say it stigmatizes organizations with the designation and would do the same to journalists if they are labeled as foreign agents.

RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said on November 21 that the law "invades" the lives and security of reporters and "is reminiscent of the darkest times in Russia's past."

Russian officials have said the law is a "symmetrical response" after Russia's state-funded channel RT -- which U.S. authorities accuse of spreading propaganda -- was required to register its U.S. operating unit under the U.S. Foreign Agents Registration Act.

With reporting by TASS

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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