Foreign Policy Digital

American Held in Moscow a Prisoner to Paperwork

Paul Whelan’s family can’t discuss his case with the U.S. Embassy until he returns a signed waiver.

The family of Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine detained in Moscow on suspicion of espionage, says that a simple bureaucratic form has hamstrung their efforts to advocate on his behalf and receive information about his case from the U.S. State Department.

Under the 1974 U.S. Privacy Act, consular officials dealing with Americans detained abroad cannot release any information about the case, including to family members, or launch a public advocacy campaign without their written consent.

In Whelan’s case, U.S. officials had to wait almost six weeks before they were allowed to bring the consent waiver to Lefortovo Prison in Moscow, where Whelan is currently being held. But instead of signing and returning the two-page document on the spot, Whelan was forced to wait to sign it and mail it back to the embassy.

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