Paul Whelan, a former US Marine currently being detained in Russia on a 16-year sentence for espionage, was reportedly attacked in a penal colony by another inmate on Tuesday afternoon.
The incident happened while Mr Whelan was working at a sewing table at around 1.30pm, his brother, David Whelan, said in an emailed statement provided to The Independent.
Paul Whelan had asked a new prisoner to move because he was blocking part of the production line he was working on. After several requests, the prisoner did not budge but instead allegedly hit Mr Whelan in the face, breaking his glasses.
The prisoner reportedly then tried to strike the American a second time, but he blocked the attempt.
Other prisoners intervened to stop the attack from continuing, the statement said. Paul Whelan later reported the attack to prison camp’s deputy warden. It is now being investigated by the prosecutor’s office.
“Paul says he believes the prison administration is taking the attack seriously.
“It is too early to know whether they will take steps to ensure his safety in the future, both from this prisoner and others who may decide they have nothing to lose by attacking Paul.”
The family also contacted the human rights ombudsman and a recording of the phone call was shared with the US Department of State (DOS) and National Security Council.
According to the statement, David Whelan found out about the attack from a phone call his brother had with their parents. He described the incident as relatively minor.
“He is also concerned that these sorts of attacks can occur any time and, due to various sharp implements in the workshop, including the shears the other prisoner was holding today, could escalate into a far more serious attack,” the statement read.
David Whelan said he believes his brother was targeted because he’s American, explaining that anti-American sentiment is not uncommon among other prisoners.
The former marine has been detained in Russia since 2018. He’s currently serving his sentence at a labour camp in Mordovia and has denied the charges against him.
His family has launched a campaign to secure his release. The US has designated him a wrongful detainee, meaning that the DOS is constantly working to bring him back to the US.
Paul Whelan was given the designation shortly after his arrest. The DOS alleges that Russia subjected the former marine to a “secret trial” based on “secret evidence”.