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Pompeo Calls Treatment Of Whelan 'Appalling,' Demands Russia Release Him

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Paul Whelan holds up a sign at his court hearing in Moscow on June 15.

The United States has demanded the immediate release of Paul Whelan, calling the treatment and conviction of the former Marine for spying "appalling."

The Moscow City Court announced the conviction and handed Whelan a 16-year prison sentence on June 15 after a trial that was held behind closed doors because the evidence included classified materials and because of measures taken to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

The U.S. ambassador to Russia called the proceedings a "mockery of justice," while Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he was outraged by the trial and that the United States has "serious concerns" that Whelan was deprived of fair-trial guarantees that Russia is required to provide under its international human rights obligations.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was deeply disappointed by the verdict and sentence against Whelan, who also holds British, Canadian, and Irish citizenship, and expressed "serious reservations about the legal process."

Russia's Foreign Ministry rejected "claims about the unfairness and excessive harshness" of the sentence.

The 50-year-old former U.S. Marine was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 and in March this year went on trial, which was held in the face of the coronavirus pandemic and diplomatic protests. He had denied all charges.

'Sham Trial'

During the hearing, Whelan held up a paper from the glass enclosure where he sat with several messages, including a reference to the proceedings as a "Sham trial" and, in an apparent reference to emergency hernia surgery last month, "Meatball surgery!"

He also complained that he had been deprived of human rights and demanded "decisive action" from U.S. President Donald Trump and from the prime ministers of the other countries he is a citizen of.

Whelan told journalists afterward that he will appeal the court's decision, calling it politically motivated.

"It is a political trial, a political sentence," Whelan said.

Moscow Court Sentences U.S. Citizen To 16 Years After Trial That U.S. Ambassador Calls 'Mockery Of Justice'
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Hours after the ruling, Pompeo said in a statement that “the treatment of Paul Whelan at the hands of Russian authorities has been appalling.”

"Russia failed to provide Mr. Whelan with a fair hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal; and during his detention has put his life at risk by ignoring his long-standing medical condition; and unconscionably kept him isolated from family and friends," he added, noting that the ruling came "after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses."

In his statement, Raab said London "will continue to provide consular support to [Whelan] and his family, and press the Russian authorities to respect [his] basic rights, which include a fair trial and appeal process."

Russian prosecutors claimed that a flash drive found in Whelan's possession contained classified information.

On May 25, a prosecutor at Whelan's trial asked a Moscow court to find him guilty of espionage and sentence him to 18 years in prison.

Whelan says he was framed when he took a USB drive from an acquaintance, thinking it contained holiday photos, and that the allegations of spying against him are politically motivated.

He has also accused his prison guards of mistreatment.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan said that he was "disappointed, enraged" by Whelan's sentence and called the trial a "mockery of justice," stressing that Whelan's conviction will harm U.S.-Russia relations.

U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan talks to reporters outside the court in Moscow on June 15.
U.S. Ambassador to Russia John Sullivan talks to reporters outside the court in Moscow on June 15.

Answering a journalist's question about a possible exchange of Whelan for Russian citizens held in the United States, Sullivan said that Washington was not seeking exchange but instead justice for Whelan.

Whelan's lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said separately that the issue of pardoning or an exchange of his client will be possible only in 10 days, when the court's ruling comes into force.

Whelan was head of global security at a U.S. auto-parts supplier at the time of his arrest. He and his relatives insist he visited Russia to attend a wedding.

Before the verdict, U.S. officials had urged Moscow to release Whelan following their criticism of Russian authorities for their "shameful treatment" of him.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, AFP, and Reuters
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