Three judges of the Moscow City court will hear Paul Whelan's bogus espionage case when the trial opens on Monday, March 23. Paul's only English-speaking defense lawyer, Olga Karlova, sent an email that the trial has been scheduled to start at 11am. We hope that it starts - and finishes - quickly.
The trial will be held in secret since the FSB claims it is an espionage case. Just like the detention hearings, the only participants will be Paul, his lawyers, the FSB, prosecutor, and judge. No media will be allowed and we will only learn about the proceedings when they are over. But the Russian Supreme Court has suspended hearing all but the most urgent cases, so Paul's trial may not actually occur.
[Supreme Court suspension of cases: https://www.interfax.
ru/russia/699827; see court order, §3: http://www.supcourt.ru/ files/28814/ ]
Meanwhile, outside the courtroom, Paul remains isolated. The Canadian Ambassador, Alison LeClaire, and her staff visited Paul on his 50th birthday. He outlined the multiple oral requests (December 27-29, 2018; twice in January; March 4, 2019; September 2019; November 2019; December 2019) and five written requests (March, April, May, June, and July 2019) to be allowed to make a phone call to family. All were declined by FSB Investigator Khiznyak or just ignored. Canadian consular staff conveyed our messages to him and delivered mail. His daily letters - to us, members of the US, UK, Canadian, and Irish governments - are still sent but take months to arrive at their destination.
We continue to be concerned about Paul's health. He cracked a molar and has had that temporarily fixed by a prison dentist. But he still has been unable to speak with a doctor about his need for surgery. Investigator Khiznyak has refused to allow him to be examined by an English-speaking doctor and Paul still does not speak Russian.
The global pandemic only heightens our worries about Paul's peril and false imprisonment. The Russian Federation government has eliminated visits from relatives to those held in pre-trial detention centers like Lefortovo. Between a secretive justice system and his isolation in prison, the consular visits have been our only regular information conduit. But a US Embassy visit today [March 19], that had been approved by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was abruptly cancelled. It may be some time before we learn what is happening to Paul.
[Access to prisons closed: https://www.interfax.