1 of 2 | U.S. citizen Paul Whelan was punched in the face Tuesday by a fellow inmate in a Russian prison labor camp in Mordovia, according to an audio recording of a phone call with Whelan. He was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges, but the U.S. considers him wrongly detained. File Photo by Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE
Nov. 29 (UPI) -- Paul Whelan, a U.S. citizen imprisoned in Russia, said he was punched in the face Tuesday by another inmate at a prison labor camp in Mordovia. The attack was confirmed by his brother David Whelan.
According to an audio statement obtained by CNN, Paul Whelan said a 50-year-old Turkish prisoner tried to hit him again before other inmates intervened to stop it.
"I stood up to block the second hit, being concerned that he had sharp shears in his hand that could be used as a weapon. Other prisoners stopped him from further assault while I left the area, looking for guards," Whelan said.
It happened on the factory floor of the prison where there are no prison guards, according to Whelan.
Whelan's brother David confirmed the attack and said the injuries sustained were minor. He said the assault was reported to the prison warden and Paul Whelan believes prison authorities will take the assault seriously.
In an email to The Hill David Whelan said, "He is also concerned that these sorts of attacks can occur any time and, due to the various sharp implements in the workshop, including the shears the other prisoner was holding today, could escalate into a far more serious attack."
Paul Whelan is a former Marine serving a 16-year sentence on espionage charges. He has been held for more than four years.
He is considered wrongly detained by the U.S. State Department.
"His detention remains unacceptable, and we continue to press for his immediate release at every opportunity," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. "I am committed to bringing home Paul and all U.S. hostages and wrongful detainees held around the world."
Whelan's family shared an audio conversation with Paul Whelan describing the attack with the State Department.
According to the State Department, the U.S. Embassy in Moscow has been in contact with Whelan, who received medical treatment at the prison after being struck.
Paul Whelan has asked to speak to Russian prosecutors to press charges for the assault.