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Russia's President Vladimir Putin during a June 7, 2021, meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow.
Russia's President Vladimir Putin during a June 7, 2021, meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow. (Sergei Ilyin, TASS/Zuma Press/TNS)

(Tribune News Service) — Novi, Mich., native and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Paul Whelan, who is imprisioned in Russia on espionage charges, has been released from solitary confinement after spending weeks in a disciplinary cell, according to the Russian news agency TASS.

Whelan's attorney, Olga Karlova, told TASS that Whelan's twin brother, David Whelan, informed him that the punishment of Paul Whelan had been lifted, the news agency reported Sunday.

Paul Whelan, a 51-year-old former corporate security executive, was arrested in Moscow in 2018 and sentenced to 16 years in prison after being convicted of espionage. He reportedly is being held in the IK-17 penal colony in the region of Mordovia, an area known to house Russia's toughest prisons. He was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in prison.

Whelan's lawyer insists the Oakland County native is innocent, and that he was handed a flash drive containing classified information without his knowledge.

A phone call to David Whelan on Sunday was not returned, while attempts to reach Karlova on Sunday were not successful.

According to an email David Whelan sent to reporters last month, his brother was sent to a medical facility to treat a cough and bursitis in his elbow. Upon returning to the prison, Whelan was put in solitary confinement for "having food in a bag," David Whelan said.

Karlova told TASS that Whelan was in the disciplinary ward for five weeks and had not been allowed contact with his lawyer.

President Joe Biden has said Whelan and another U.S. prisoner and former Marine in Russia, Trevor Reed, are being "wrongfully imprisoned" in Russia and advocated on their behalf with Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Geneva summit last month.

Putin opened the door to possible discussions about a prisoner swap with the U.S. and vowed to continue discussions on the matter. Biden also promised to follow up with Putin.

Lawmakers from Michigan and Texas gathered Thursday in front of the U.S. Capitol to renew calls for Russia to release Whelan and Reed.

"This is entirely unacceptable and will never stand in the United States of America," said U.S. Rep Haley Stevens, a Rochester Hills Democrat who represents Whelan in Congress. "We believe and we continue to envision, and pray and push for their return home."

Elizabeth Whelan, Paul's sister, who joined the eight House lawmakers at the Capitol, added: "Our main concern right now, quite frankly, is the well-being of our brother."

(c)2021 The Detroit News

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