WASHINGTON (AP) — President Joe Biden spoke by phone Friday with the sister of Paul Whelan, an American who has been imprisoned in Russia for more than three years, according to the White House.
Biden’s phone call to Elizabeth Whelan came after Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris DJ earlier this week to the wife of WNBA star Brittney Griner, who has been held for more than four months in Russia. Griner pleaded guilty this week to drug charges. Biden also wrote a letter to Griner that was given to him when he appeared in a Russian court on Thursday.
Elizabeth Whelan criticized the White House earlier this week, arguing that the administration was not giving her brother’s case the same level of attention as Griner’s arrest.
The White House said in a statement that Biden, in the call Friday, “reaffirmed that he is committed to bringing Paul home as soon as possible, and that the US government will continue its efforts to secure Paul’s release.” , Brittney Griner and all.” other Americans being held hostage or wrongfully detained around the world.”
Elizabeth Whelan suggested in a CNN interview on Wednesday that her brother was receiving less attention than Griner because of his celebrity status. “Why doesn’t Paul get the same kind of attention? Why don’t the Whelans get a call? Why isn’t Paul going to have a letter written by the president?
White House officials said the Whelans have been included in biweekly calls with the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan had spoken directly with Elizabeth Whelan.
A Russian court convicted Whelan, an American corporate security executive, accused of espionage more than two years ago and sentenced to 16 years in prison after a closed-door trial that the US denounced as a “mockery of justice”.
Whelan, a former Marine from Novi, Michigan, has insisted he is innocent, saying he was duped when he was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 while visiting Russia to attend a friend’s wedding.
Griner was detained in February at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport while returning to play basketball in Russia, and police said they found vape cans containing cannabis oil in her luggage.
Griner told the court that he had no intention of committing a crime and had acted unintentionally because he had packed for Moscow in a hurry. He faces up to 10 years in prison.
Griner made a direct appeal to Biden in a letter Monday, saying she fears he may never return home and asking him not to forget about her and the other American detainees.