The family of a former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia on espionage charges has released a statement from him calling for President Joe Biden to push for his release during his summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin later this week.
“I implore you to bring this appalling case of hostage diplomacy to an end,” Paul Whelan said in an audio file distributed by his family on June 14.
“I remain innocent. No crime of espionage occurred. The secret trial, without evidence, proves those facts.”
Whelan’s family said he made the statement in a May 30 telephone call with his parents, ahead of the June 16 summit between Biden and Putin in Geneva.
Whelan, 50, was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison in May 2020 following a trial that was condemned by the United States as a "mockery of justice.”
In an interview aired by CNN on June 14, the parents of Trevor Reed, another former U.S. Marine imprisoned in Russia, expressed hope the upcoming Biden-Putin talks will lead to their son's release.
The parents, Joey and Paula Reed, made the comments after Putin expressed readiness to discuss a possible prisoner exchange when he meets with Biden.
Asked if he would consider a prisoner swap, Putin told NBC News in an interview aired on June 14: "Yes, yes of course."
Reed, 29, was sentenced in July 2020 to nine years after being convicted of endangering two Russian police officers while drunk in Moscow. The former U.S. Marine, who denies the charge, was diagnosed with COVID-19 last month.
The U.S. government has protested the detention of both Reed and Whelan and repeatedly demanded their release.
White House spokesperson Jen Psaki told reporters in May that such detainments by Russia were being raised "at the highest level, and...through many diplomatic channels."