The family of a 60-year-old American school teacher behind bars in Russia wants him to be added to the United States’ proposed prisoner exchange deal with the Kremlin to bring back basketball star Brittney Griner.
Marc Fogel — who taught International Baccalaureate history courses in Russia for almost a decade — was arrested in August 2021 for entering the country with half an ounce of medical marijuana, The Washington Post reported.
Doctors in the U.S. had prescribed that Fogel use medical marijuana for the chronic pain he suffered from several injuries and surgeries.
“He’d packed 14 vape cartridges of medical marijuana into his suitcase, stuffing some in his shoes, and placed some cannabis buds in a contact lens case, his wife said,” according to the Post.
“It’s pretty simple,” his son Ethan told the newspaper. “He thought he could get away with it.”
After being detained in poor conditions, the Pennsylvania man was sentenced to 14 years imprisonment in June, according to the Post.
“A 14 year sentence in a Russian prison colony is, at best, a life sentence and, at worst, a death sentence,” a lawyer helping the Fogel family told Fox News. Attorneys consider Fogel’s sentence “exorbitant,” the outlet reported.
The Fogel family hoped that when the Biden administration negotiated a prisoner exchange with Moscow to get Griner back, it would include Fogel in the agreement.
Russian authorities arrested Griner at a Moscow airport in February for possessing vaporizer cartridges containing hashish oil, which is banned in Russia.
Since the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine the next week, U.S. officials feared that Moscow could use the basketballer as a high-profile hostage. The U.S. began working on a prisoner exchange deal that would ensure she would return to the country.
On July 28, CNN reported that the U.S. was willing to offer Russia convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout in exchange for Russia releasing Grimes and 52-year-old corporate security director and ex-policeman Paul Whelan, who was arrested in 2018 on espionage charges.
The Fogel family hoped that Fogel would be included in the agreement when they heard the U.S. was negotiating a prisoner exchange with Moscow.
That Fogel was not included came as a disappointment, according to Fox News.
“[It] was heart-wrenching, hearing he wasn’t included,” Fogel’s sister, Anne Fogel-Burchenal, told Fox News.
“Our strategy was to play it low-key and cool through his sentencing, because that was what we thought was the right thing to do. But maybe it wasn’t. Maybe we should’ve been screaming and hollering all along,” Fogel-Burchenal added.
The family is now actively speaking out for the Biden administration to include Fogel in the prisoner exchange deal with Russia.
“We are going to yell as loudly as we can and continue to until he gets home,” Fogel-Burchenal said. “We aren’t going to let it rest.”
According to Fox News, the family wants the State Department to classify Fogel as “wrongfully detained,” just as Griner was in May, according to The New York Times.
Such a designation would “commit additional US government resources to securing his release and move to the jurisdiction of the US government’s Special Envoy for Hostage Affairs,” the family’s attorney told Fox.
“We are pleading with the Biden administration to classify him as wrongfully detained,” Fogel’s niece Ellen Keelan said, according to Fox News. “Remember this is a real person – a husband and father and an amazing teacher – and we can’t let this be the end of his story.”
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