Day 474 - Paul Whelan - Lefortovo Prison Moscow - April 15, 2020 - Hearings, Virus Threat

Paul Whelan returned to court on Monday [4/13/2020], according to his lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov. There is no way to verify this because everyone else was excluded from the courthouse. This included U.S. Ambassador John Sullivan, who attempted to attend the hearing but was refused entry by court staff.
[CBS: ]

Paul's lawyers spoke with media after the hearing. They indicated that Paul had entered a plea of "not guilty". They reiterated that the case was a "fabrication" and "provocation", that Paul had been entrapped by the Russian police for reasons known only to Russian authorities.

Paul's lawyers asked that future hearings be postponed until the coronovirus pandemic restrictions are lifted but the three-judge panel led by Judge Andrei Suvorov denied their motion. The court also denied Paul's request to have access to his lawyers, who are currently prohibited from seeing him in prison.

[Kommersant: ]

Mr. Zherebenkov suggested the court's aggressive timeline may be "to get [the case] over and done with, without the press or any other people." Other Russian media have noticed that the court's interpretation of "urgent" - a requirement set by the Supreme Court for hearings during the pandemic - seems to be "high profile". The lockdown is providing cover for quickly dispensing with uncomfortable cases. Paul's next court hearing is scheduled for Monday, April 20.

[BBC: ]
[Supreme Court suspension of cases [PDF]: ]
[High profile v. urgent cases: ]

Ambassador Sullivan also spoke with a number of media outlets after being refused entry to the court hearing. He commented on how Paul's ongoing wrongful imprisonment is a barrier to improved US-Russia relations. Ambassador Sullivan noted that Paul's case had been raised by both President Trump and Secretary of State Pompeo.

[BBC interview [VIDEO]]: ]

The Ambassador released a statement, where he noted that the "entire case against Paul – the circumstances of his arrest, total lack of evidence, and ongoing imprisonment – is not only morally wrong and legally suspect but represents a significant obstacle in the U.S.-Russia bilateral relationship."

As he said to the BBC, "no matter what the motives are, they're vile and really inhumane." Paul remains without medical care. He has been unable to phone anyone and so has not spoken with family for 16 months. Now he is isolated even from his lawyers and consular staff.

[Ambassador Sullivan statement: ]

Paul's health is at greater risk than ever. Coronavirus cases and deaths are increasing rapidly in Russia, with over 3000 new cases in 24 hours yesterday [4/14/2020]. Cases among guards have been reported at other detention facilities, including one who had just returned to duty from Moscow. Paul has asked for a coronavirus test but the request was denied.

At the hearing, his lawyers said that Paul asked the court - again - to allow him to be examined by an English speaking doctor. Paul's ability to stand and move around now causes him pain due to his untreated hernia. There is only one way to know if his health puts him at greater risk of virus infection, and that is access to a doctor. But the prison continues to deny him medical treatment.

[Russian coronavirus cases growing: ]
[Five prison staff have COVID-19: ]
[President Putin notes that the situation is not improving: ]
[Medical attention: ]

The prison seems unable to offer any protection against the virus either. An attempt by the US Embassy to deliver personal protective equipment - gloves, cleaning cloths - was rejected. Prison monitors noted that Paul had a mask when they visited. But we understand that he is transported in a prison vehicle with guards who are not wearing any protective gear beyond masks themselves. It is not clear what condition the vehicle itself is in.

[Prison conditions related to virus protection: ]

We can only hope that, as ludicrous as this court case is, it is completed quickly so that his exposure to any additional health perils is limited. It is a terrible predicament to be in. The sooner the trial is completed, the better. But in order to reach that milestone, Paul will have to face additional exposure to the coronavirus.