Oliver Carroll – The Independent
Paul Whelan, the British citizen detained in Moscow over allegations of spying, has been transferred from solitary confinement to a two-person cell, The Independent has learned.
Late on Friday, authorities allowed a group of independent prison monitors to visit him for the first time. A spokesman for the group Yevgeny Yenikeyev, said he saw a man in “reasonable condition,” but living in spartan conditions inside an 8 sq m cell.
“He has grown stubble, but he looks OK,” Mr Yenikeyev told The Independent. “He is now in a refurbished wing of the prison, with hot water and a working toilet.”
The monitors were not allowed a proper conversation with Mr Whelan. Officials had refused to allow them to talk in English, he said, citing prison rules. There was nothing in the law that prohibited conversations in languages other than Russian, Mr Yenikeyev said, but it was “not the first time” officers had introduced such restrictions.
Interactions between the monitoring group and Mr Whelan were instead limited to gestures and greetings, which the prisoner “reacted positively” to.
Monitors also discovered that Mr Whelan had been assigned a new cell-mate, though he was out of sight during the duration of the visit.
“We saw there were a few books in Russian, which we presumed belong to the cell-mate, and a Russian phrasebook, presumably Whelan’s,” Mr Yenikeyev said.
Mr Whelan, a former US marine, holds four passports – from the United States, United Kingdom, Ireland and Canada. He was arrested in late December on espionage charges, after which he was brought to Lefortovo prison, one of Moscow’s most notorious jails. He spent the first ten days in solitary confinement.
Though there has been no official comment on the circumstances of his arrest, a news agency connected to Russia’s security agency suggested the former marine was detained after a “recruit” passed him a flash drive of state secrets in a Moscow hotel.
Mr Whelan’s lawyer says he rejects the charges. His family say he had travelled to the Russian capital for a wedding, and also reject any idea that he may have been a spy.
Mr Yenikeyev told The Independent the monitoring group would make an additional attempt to visit Whelan to gain more information about his heath and other needs.