Brittney Griner’s release from a Russian penal colony on Thursday morning drew a heartbreaking response from the family of Paul Whelan, a Canadian-born United States marine who was arrested in a Moscow hotel in 2018 and was convicted of espionage charges and sentenced to 16 years in prison two years later.
“There is no greater success than for a wrongful detainee to be freed & for them to go home,” David Whelan, brother of Paul Whelan, said in a Thursday statement. “The Biden Admin made the right decision to bring Ms. Griner home, & to make the deal that was possible, rather than waiting for one that wasn’t going to.”
Paul Whelan made a phone call to his family from a penitentiary infirmary last week, said a report from Interfax. He is still in Russian custody after Thursday’s swap, according to Reuters and Interfax, though dialogue on a possible prisoner swap is still continuing.
“Paul said he’d been given a ‘special dispensation’ to phone home, so we know it wasn’t a technical issue about the phone calls,” David Whelan said. “He had been prohibited for some reason.”
Brittney Griner was released from Russian custody on Thursday morning after she was swapped for Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was considered the “world’s most wanted man” prior to his arrest in 2008. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov remained hopeful about a potential swap even after Griner was moved to the penal colony in Russia’s Mordovia region in mid November, the same region Whelan was serving his sentence, saying he was “definitely counting on a positive outcome” with the swap.
Griner was originally detained in Russian customs last February for packing vape cartridges carrying less than one gram of hashish oil, a more concentrated form of marijuana. She was sentenced to nine years in prison following her arrest before she was set to play in the Russian Premier League and was moved from a detention center to an undisclosed location in early November.