MOSCOW -- The outgoing U.S. ambassador to Moscow, Jon Huntsman, has called on the Russian government to "immediately release" Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen being held on espionage charges that he denies.
Huntsman, speaking to reporters on October 2 after he visited Whelan at the Lefortovo detention center in Moscow, cited the former Marine's "deteriorating health" and "the lack of any evidence whatsoever" in seeking his release.
The 49-year-old Whelan, who also holds Canadian, Irish, and British citizenship, was arrested in a hotel room in the Russian capital in December and accused of receiving classified information.
He was charged with espionage, which carries a sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Whelan's family said he was in Moscow at the time for a wedding.
Whelan told reporters from a cage at a Moscow court hearing on August 23 that he had been abused by prison guards during his incarceration.
However, Judge Yelena Kaneva at the time ordered Whelan's detention to be extended until October 29 as he awaits trial.
Huntsman said that Whelan "has been locked up now for nine months without a shred of evidence."
"We have been told that he was caught red-handed. If that were the case, clearly, somebody would have seen something. Certainly, his lawyers would have seen something by now," the ambassador said.
"Meanwhile, his health is deteriorating. I worry about that. I know his family worries about that," he said.
Huntsman added that Whelan had not been able to communicate with his family, "which is basically a right that is given to prisoners in the United States."
"So, the treatment that is accorded him here certainly is not equal to the treatment that is accorded to Russian prisoners in the United States," the ambassador added.
Hunstman will officially leave his post on October 3 amid media speculation of a possible run for the Utah governorship. He sent U.S. President Donald Trump his resignation letter on August 5.