Fri, 19 Apr 2019

A Russian court has refused to release U.S. citizen Paul Whelan on bail, leaving him in a Moscow jail though the end of February ahead of a possible trial on espionage charges he denies.

In a ruling on January 22, the Moscow City Court upheld a lower court's decision to send Whelan to pretrial detention through February 28.

Whelan, 48, was brought to the court and was confined to a metal enclosure during the hearing.

His Russian lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, said he would appeal the ruling and continue to seek Whelan's release.

The ruling came hours after Zherebenkov raised eyebrows by saying that Whelan possessed classified information when he was detained, but that it is not clear how he received it and whether he was aware of it.

A former U.S. Marine who also holds citizenship in Ireland, Canada, and Britain, Whelan was arrested in Moscow by Federal Security Service (FSB) agents on December 28.

Russian authorities allege he was caught 'red-handed' in an act of espionage, and he faces 10 to 20 years in prison if tried and convicted. Zherebenkov says he denies guilt, and his family says he is innocent, is not a spy, and was in Moscow to attend a friend's wedding to a Russian woman.

Ahead of the hearing, the Interfax news agency quoted Zherebenkov as saying that 'when Whelan was detained, information containing a state secret was found. But how he got it, what he was supposed to do with it, and whether Whelan knew that he had secret information is unknown.'

Whelan speaks with lawyers while standing in the defendants' cage in a Moscow courtroom on January 22.

Russian authorities have not released details of the espionage allegations against Whelan. The news agency Rosbalt, citing an unnamed source, has reported that Whelan was detained in his room at the Metropol hotel near the Kremlin after receiving a USB stick containing a classified list of employees of an unspecified Russian security agency.

Zherebenkov's remarks appeared to suggest that he might claim that evidence was planted on Whelan.

Interfax quoted U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan as saying that representatives of the embassy were attending the January 22 hearing.

'We are closely following Paul Whelan's case and continuing to call on Russia to adhere to international law and provide detained U.S. citizens with fast, fair, and transparent judicial processes,' she said, according to a Russian-language Interfax report.

A day after Whelan was detained, Moscows Lefortovo District Court ordered him to be held in pretrial detention until February 28 -- a term that can be extended if a court approves. He is being held at Moscow's Lefortovo jail.

On January 20, his brother David announced a public campaign to help fund his legal defense.

Whelan's arrest and prosecution come amid persistent tension between Moscow and Western countries, particularly the United States and Britain, over a range of issues including Russia's interference in Ukraine, its alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, and the poisoning of former Russian intelligence agent Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in March 2018 with a deadly Soviet-designed nerve agent.

With reporting by Interfax, RIA Novosti, Ekho Moskvy, and TASS RFE/RL

RFE/RL journalists report the news in 25 countries where a free press is banned by the government or not fully established.

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Copyright (c) 2018. RFE/RL, Inc. Republished with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036

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