As the Biden administration does backflips to try to secure the release of WNBA basketball player Brittney Griner, charged in Russia with attempting to smuggle marijuana into the country, another American, teacher Marc Hilliard Fogel, 60, is currently 11 months into a spine-chilling 14-year sentence in a Russian jail on the same charge, and his family worries he will be “left behind.”
Fogel, an acclaimed teacher of International Baccalaureate history, was arrested in Russia in August 2021 after he attempted to bring about half an ounce of marijuana — prescribed to him by his doctor in the States for chronic pain — into the country, according to The Washington Post.
But unlike the headline-grabbing case of Brittney Griner, few are talking about Fogel’s imprisonment.
As BizPac Review reported, Griner’s wife, Cherelle, received personal calls from both President Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris “to reassure her that [Biden] is working to secure Brittney’s release as soon as possible, as well as the release of Paul Whelan and other U.S. nationals who are wrongfully detained or held hostage in Russia and around the world,” according to the White House readout.
Whelan was arrested in Moscow in December 2018 and charged with being a U.S. spy. In June 2020, he was sentenced to 16 years of hard labor in a prison camp located in the Republic of Mordovia.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Antony Blinken informed members of the media that the U.S. has made a “substantial proposal” to Russia for the release of Griner and Whelan.
BRITTNEY GRINER: Sec. of State Antony Blinken is asked about reports that the US has proposed a prisoner swap to free WNBA star Brittney Griner, as well as Paul Whelan, who are both being held in Russia. pic.twitter.com/sheHe9ExRi
— test_bot_123 (@testbot111222) July 27, 2022
The deal reportedly involves a swap for prisoner Viktor Bout, a ruthless arms dealer and the inspiration behind Nicholas Cage’s film, “The Lord of War.”
This Brittney Griner for Viktor Bout trade blows away any NBA offseason move. Can’t wait for Lord of War 2 to get made. pic.twitter.com/uq596tk0jP
— Mike (@MikeTerril) July 27, 2022
Amidst the media frenzy generated by Griner, Fogel’s wife, Jane Fogel, fears her husband will be forgotten.
“There’s a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach that Marc will be left behind,” she told The Washington Post following Blinken’s announcement.
“It’s terrifying,” she continued. “I would hope that President Biden and especially first lady Jill Biden, who is an educator, realize the importance of including Marc in addition to Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan.”
While Griner’s wife was being reassured by Biden and Harris, the Fogels “have been stalled at the mid-functionary level of the U.S. State Department,” The Post reports.
After news of Blinken’s proposal reached Fogel in his Russian cell, the teacher fired off a letter home.
“That hurt,” he wrote of the potential prisoner exchange. “Teachers are at least as important as bballers.”
WNBA’s Brittney Griner ‘terrified’ she might rot in Russian prison, begs Biden for help: ‘I voted for you’ https://t.co/WegJylsxea
— American Wire News (@americanwire_) July 5, 2022
“It seems like the government is working really hard for Brittney Griner and Paul Whelan,” said Jane Fogel. “We want them to work for us, too.”
Rather than vie for the media’s attention, Jane Fogel, who was told by “U.S. officials and informal advisers” that speaking out publicly could make things worse for her already suffering husband, has kept quiet about her family’s plight.
Snubbed family of Marine imprisoned in Russia ‘crushed’ Biden called Brittney Griner’s wife https://t.co/ApXzhRl4RU pic.twitter.com/ohASJkNu4H
— Conservative News (@BIZPACReview) July 8, 2022
But as she noted, the State Department has not even declared her husband to be “wrongfully detained,” as it has with both Griner and Whelan. The designation, explains The Post, would move Fogel’s case into the hands of the Office of the Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs, which could then negotiate his release.
“I want people to understand this is a death sentence for my uncle,” Ellen Keelan, Fogel’s niece, told CBS Pittsburgh. “He is 61, he already has these health issues, and we’re talking about a maximum-security prison in Russia.”
“We’re distraught, we’re beside ourselves,” she continued. “We did not see this coming. The only explanation is that this is political.”
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