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Paul Whelan calls home from Russia after more than a week without contact

<i>Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters</i><br/>Paul Whelan
Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters
Paul Whelan

By Jennifer Hansler, CNN

Paul Whelan, an American detained in Russia, was able to call home Friday after more than a week without contact with his family, his brother David said.

Paul was also able to speak with the US Embassy in Moscow and informed them he had returned to his normal penal colony from a prison hospital Friday, according to a senior State Department official.

Paul, who is serving a 16-year prison sentence, told his parents that he had been moved to the prison hospital.

“He did not say why he was there, but did say he would call again later,” David said in an email.

“So the call at least acts as a ‘proof of life’ even if nothing else has been explained: When Paul went there, why, why the calls stopped, why the US Embassy had to seek information about his whereabouts and the Russian authorities refused to respond, etc.,” David said of the call to their parents, which took place early Friday morning ET.

The senior State Department official said that Paul spoke to consular officers Friday and “confirmed that he had been transferred to a prison hospital on Thanksgiving Day and returned to IK-17 penal colony on December 2.”

“We are also aware that Paul was also able to call home on December 2,” the official said. “The Embassy continues to press for timely updates on his condition.”

This was the second time in recent months that Paul was moved to a prison hospital without explanation, after being moved to one for an unknown reason in mid-September.

David said Paul was able to wish their father a happy belated birthday after not being able to speak with him on his actual birthday Wednesday.

Whelan’s family had become concerned because he had “repeatedly” told his family that “if he doesn’t call home for more than 3 days, to alert the US Embassy,” David said in an email Monday.

The Biden administration has worked to secure the release of Paul and another American wrongfully detained in Russia, US women’s basketball star Brittney Griner.

Griner, who was sentenced to nine years in prison in early August, was recently transferred to a penal colony in the same region where Whelan is detained.

The Russian government formally told the US Embassy last week about Griner’s transfer, weeks after the WNBA star had been moved.

“The U.S. Embassy in Moscow was formally notified by the Russian government of Ms. Griner’s transfer on November 23, more than two weeks after she was moved from a prison in Moscow to IK-2 in Mordovia,” a State Department spokesperson told CNN on Thursday.

“We are in frequent contact with Ms. Griner’s legal team and aware that they were able to visit her this week,” the spokesperson said.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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