US teacher sentenced to 14 years for traveling to Russia with cannabis

Published: Jul. 26, 2022 at 7:23 PM EDT
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(CNN) – A United States teacher was caught with marijuana in Russia and sentenced harshly.

The case has struck some comparisons to WNBA star Brittney Griner’s case. But Marc Fogel’s family said he isn’t getting the same treatment from diplomats.

The last moment of freedom for Fogel was caught on surveillance video at a Russian airport. He was heading back to Moscow last August for his 10th year of teaching the children of U.S. diplomats.

Airport personnel went through Fogel’s bags just minutes before he was detained for carrying cannabis into the country.

Fogel’s sister, Anne Fogel, said no one in his family has heard his voice since. His family has only gotten letters written in Russian.

“He says what he wants in English, someone translates for him, one of his cellmates, and depending on how good their English is is how accurate of a picture we get of what is happening,” Anne Fogel said. “It’s very convoluted and it’s incredibly worrisome because we can’t really have an honest conversation. Everything goes through the censors. It’s harrowing.”

Marc Fogel was convicted of smuggling drugs into Russia and sentenced to 14 years in prison in a high-security penal colony last month.

His family and lawyers have said he was carrying cannabis for medical reasons to treat chronic back pain.

“He made a terrible mistake by taking medical marijuana into Russia,” Anne Fogel said. “But 14 years in a hard labor camp is essentially a death sentence for him. He’s 61 years old and he has a very long history of spinal injury.”

The circumstances of his detention have some similarities to the arrest of Brittney Griner. However, Griner was declared wrongfully detained by the state department less than three months after her arrest.

Marc Fogel’s family is still waiting for action to be taken.

“He is wrongfully detained. There’s no question about it,” Anne Fogel said. “This is an outrageous, outrageous sentence.”

State Department spokesman Ned Price said they are continuing to learn more about the circumstances of Marc Fogel’s detention.

“We are always weighing those developments against the criteria to determine whether an American is wrongfully held or not,” he said.

While Marc Fogel was carrying about 20 grams of cannabis, which is much more than Griner had, his American lawyer said that his sentence can’t be explained without there being a political motive.

“This is a person who has served the American diplomatic community in schools all over the world for well over the majority of his career,” Anne Fogel said. “I need my president and first lady to stand up for him. He needs to come home.”

Marc Fogel’s family continues to push the department to deem him wrongfully detained. Doing so would launch the Biden administration to engage in negotiations to bring him home.

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