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 the 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 that Whelan be released immediately and considers the 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.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Monday that the United States was “outraged” by the conviction “after a secret trial, with secret evidence, and without appropriate allowances for defense witnesses.”
Pompeo said Whelan’s treatment at the hands of Russian authorities had been “appalling.”
“Russia failed to provide Mr. Whelan with a fair hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal; and during his detention has put his life at risk by ignoring his long-standing medical condition; and unconscionably kept him isolated from family and friends,” Pompeo said.
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.”
Prior to the sentencing, David Whelan told NBC News on Sunday that his brother's detention had been particularly hard on his parents who are in their 80s.
“The longer the sentence, and the longer that he actually spends in the, in Russian prison, the less likely he will see my parents,” he told NBC News, ahead of the verdict.
“They’re obviously upset about that.”
David Whelan also said that he was hopeful that a conviction would allow the U.S. and Russian governments to talk about his brother's release.
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.
Ross, the Embassy spokeswoman, 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.
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.