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Trevor Reed, former Marine in Russian prison, goes on hunger strike over rights violations

Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, detained in 2019 and accused of assaulting police officers, stands inside a defendants’ cage during a court hearing in Moscow on July 30, 2020. (Maxim Shemetov/Reuters)

MOSCOW — Former U.S. Marine Trevor Reed, sentenced in Russia to nine years after being convictedfor a drunken 2019 incident he said he did not remember, has declared a hunger strike to protest violations of his rights in prison, according to his family and lawyers.

Reed, 30, was convicted of endangering Russian police and jailed in July 2020. Conditions in his prison in the Russian republic of Mordovia are harsh, and Reed is being denied the right to communicate with his family, according to a statement from his family Monday.

“Russian authorities are holding Trevor in a small room with a hole in the floor for a toilet. They will not allow him to communicate in his own language, to receive books or letters, to receive commissary items like other prisoners do, nor will they allow him to use a phone,” the Reed family’s statement said.

Former Marine gets nine years in a Russian jail over a drunken incident he says he cannot remember

Reed’s lawyers, Sergei Nikitenkov and Viktoria Buklova, said he went on a hunger strike Thursday to protest being repeatedly placed in a punishment cell “and other serious violations of his rights.”

The Mordovia branch of the Russian Federal Penitentiary Service denied he had announced a hunger strike and claimed he was still eating, the Interfax news agency reported.

Reed is one of several Americans to fall foul of Russia’s legal system, which has an acquittal rate of less than 0.05 percent. Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have frequently criticized the legal system over wrongful prosecutions, political cases and arbitrary detentions.

The U.S. State Department has a travel warning urging Americans not to travel to Russia because of “harassment by Russian government security officials, the embassy’s limited ability to assist U.S. citizens in Russia, and the arbitrary enforcement of local law,” among other reasons.

When President Biden met with his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Geneva in June, he raised Reed’s case and that of another jailed former Marine, Paul Whelan. He also raised the case of a U.S. business executive charged in Russia with embezzlement, Michael Calvey.

The U.S. ambassador to Moscow, John Sullivan, has called the evidence against Reed “flimsy and preposterous,” adding that the case would have been thrown out of court in the United States.

Reed’s family said prison officers have refused to accept items for Reed from the ambassador and that “they are also taunting him about it.” They said it has been nearly four months since he has been given permission to speak to them.

“We would also like to note that none of the Russian citizens who are incarcerated here have been held in a room with a hole in the floor for a toilet or held incommunicado from their own families or their Embassy,” the statement said. “This ordeal has gone on 815 days with no end in sight and we have been patient,” the family said. They urged U.S. officials to reach a prisoner exchange deal with Russia.

The incident occurred when Reed visited Russia in 2019 to see his girlfriend and study Russian. During the trip, he attended a party for her colleagues on Aug. 15 at which he was encouraged to drink a large amount of vodka, according to a statement posted by Reed’s family on a website about his case.

After the party, he was running intoxicated near a busy road, and police were called. His family believes he should have been taken to a hospital for help. The police case states that after he was placed in a squad car, he attacked police, causing the vehicle to swerve.

He was charged with using violence to endanger the life or health of a government official performing his duties, an offense carrying a maximum 10-year penalty. He pleaded not guilty and continues to profess his innocence.

A website set up by his father, Joey Reed, cites flaws in the evidence. For example, traffic video footage did not show the vehicle swerving, nor did witnesses in a car following the police car to the station see it swerve, it says.

Several other Americans have been convicted in Russian courts, including Whelan, who was sentenced to 16 years in prison on espionage charges in June 2020. Whelan insisted throughout the trial that he was framed. His appeal is ongoing.

In August, a Russian court sentenced Calvey, a prominent U.S. investor based in Russia, to a five-year, six-month suspended term after an embezzlement conviction.

Calvey, co-founder of Russia-focused private-equity group Baring Vostok Capital Partners, and other executives at the firm were arrested in February 2019 on accusations of defrauding Vostochny Bank.

He and the other defendants denied the charges and blamed the allegations on a business dispute with their former partners.

American Paul Whelan convicted of spying by Russia, given 16 years in prison

Moscow court convicts U.S. investor Michael Calvey in embezzlement case, but he will face no added jail time

FAQ: Is a Russia-U.S. prisoner swap possible?