(NewsNation) — Russia released a video of Paul Whelan earlier this week showing the detained American on prison grounds and refusing to interview with a Russian reporter. Paul Whelan was later retaliated against for his defiance, his twin brother, David Whelan, told NewsNation.
While the White House called the video “reassuring” because it provided some of the first public images of Paul Whelan in years, the Biden administration demanded Russia release him immediately.
David Whelan said it was great to see what his brother looked like after all these years.
“It’s good to see how he looks,” he said. “It’s good to see the strength in the way he stares down the Russian propaganda video cameras.”
However, he doesn’t believe that the video is an accurate portrayal of what goes on in the prison camp.
“I think they did a bit of sprucing up and made sure that everybody, you know, was acting well,” he said.
Russia has detained Paul Whelan for more than four years. He was accused of espionage when he was arrested in December 2018, an accusation the U.S. government, which considers Whelan wrongfully detained, denies.
He was sentenced in 2020 to 16 years in a remote Russian prison camp.
David Whelan said his brother had previously refused to do the interview and was surprised when the cameras ambushed him while he was sitting at the sewing machine.
“He was surprised he was coerced by the prison to participate in the interview,” David Whelan said. “He refused to do it.”
In the video, Paul Whelan continued to refuse to answer questions, which, on camera, looked like no big deal. However, his brother confirmed to NewsNation that Paul Whelan was later retaliated against by the guards in the prison for his defiance.
Prison staff, a deputy warden and another person entered the property room where the prisoners’ personal property is kept. There, they pulled out all of Paul Whelan’s possessions, including personal letters that he kept from people who had written to him.
David Whelan said they threw the letters on the floor and walked all over them with their muddy boots. They also stole pieces of clothing that his brother had stored in his personal possession.
“He was retaliated against for not participating. But I was glad to see him give a little bit of lip to the interview,” David Whelan said.
Since the interview was conducted in English, David Whelan believes it was meant for a Western audience. It hasn’t been shown on Russian TV or seen by Paul Whelan.
It’s also another reminder that Paul Whelan remains imprisoned in Russia despite various prisoner swaps over the past few years, including deals that released Brittney Griner and U.S. Marine Corps veteran Trevor Reed.
The White House has maintained that securing Paul Whelan’s release remains a priority. However, David Whelan stressed that it’s the Kremlin that will ultimately decide when his brother is released.
“Until they are willing to come to the table and make a concession, Paul will remain in Mordovia,” David Whelan said.
David Whelan said his brother has luckily been able to talk with their parents for about 15 minutes a day. Sometimes, the prison staff won’t let him make those phone calls, but for the most part, that’s how David Whelan and his family interact with him.