A former U.S. marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying was sentenced Monday to 16 years in jail, according to state media reports and the U.S. embassy in Moscow.
Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in the Russian capital at the end of December 2018. He was accused of espionage, a charge he denies.
Whelan’s defense said they would appeal the decision within 10 days, according to Russian news agency, Interfax.
“Today, #PaulWhelan was convicted and sentenced to 16 years in prison in Russia,” Rebecca Ross, spokesperson at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, tweeted attributing the remarks to U.S. Ambassador to Russia, John J. Sullivan.
“This secret trial in which no evidence was produced is an egregious violation of human rights and international legal norms.”
Ross subsequently tweeted that the ambassador has demanded Whelan is released immediately and considers his conviction a mockery of justice.
“There was no evidence recited by the judge that justified the detention that he’s already been subjected to, which is a year-and-a-half,” Sullivan told journalists outside the court, according to The Associated Press.
“I am disappointed, crestfallen, outraged at what I’ve just heard.”
Spying charges carry a prison sentence of up to 20 years in Russia.
Whelan’s brother, David Whelan, told MSNBC after his detention that he was in Russia to attend a wedding but never made it to the ceremony. He also said the family had learned Whelan had been detained from online news reports.
Whelan has been detained in Russia for over 17 months. His trial has been closed to the public because Moscow says the case is classified.
In response to his brother’s conviction and sentencing on Monday, David Whelan said the Russian legal system had been “found guilty of injustice.”
“We had hoped that the court might show some independence but, in the end, Russian judges are political, not legal, entities,” he said in a statement.
“We look to the U.S. government to immediately take steps to bring Paul home.”
The condition of Whelan’s health remains unclear after he was rushed to hospital last month for an emergency operation, according to his brother and the U.S. embassy.
David Whelan said his brother was taken to hospital for emergency hernia surgery after suffering from “severe” abdominal pain.
Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Ross accused Russian authorities of waiting until his condition was “life-threatening” to provide him medical attention.
“We’ve repeatedly requested Paul be allowed an outside, English-speaking doctor, yet he’s been denied necessary medical attention,” she tweeted.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also weighed in saying it was “unacceptable” for Whelan to be denied medical treatment until his condition became “dire.”
“We demand Paul’s release,” Pompeo tweeted on May 30.
This is developing story, check back here for updates
Hayley Walker contributed.