FIRST ON FOX: A Republican congressman has introduced a bill that would require more transparency from the State Department as to how wrongful detainment determinations are made following several high profile Americans being locked up abroad in recent years.
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler of Pennsylvania has introduced the Marc Fogel Act, which amends the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act and “would require the State Department to provide Congress with copies of documents and communications on why a wrongful determination has or has not been made in cases of U.S. nationals detained abroad within six months of arrest.”
Rep. Reschenthaler, who represents Pennsylvania’s 14th congressional district, said in a press release that he takes issue with the fact that American schoolteacher Marc Fogel has been held in Russia since August 2021 without being labeled as wrongfully detained by the U.S. government.
“Marc Fogel meets six of the eleven criteria established by the Robert Levinson Hostage Recovery and Hostage-Taking Accountability Act to be designated as wrongfully detained,” Reschenthaler wrote. “Since last year, I have urged the State Department to classify him as wrongfully detained and prioritize securing his release. The Department has failed to do either and refused to explain its inaction – effectively stonewalling my efforts to bring him home.”
“The Marc Fogel Act will provide transparency into the State Department’s wrongful detainment determination process and help ensure that Americans imprisoned overseas are not forgotten.”
Fogel, 60, is serving what attorneys have called an “exorbitant” 14-year sentence for being caught in Russia with medical marijuana that he used to treat a severe back injury.
Fogel had worked as a teacher at a Moscow school for nearly 10 years when he was stopped at an airport upon his return to Russia. He was in possession at the time of medical marijuana his doctor recommended he take for “severe chronic pain” that was caused by years of spinal injuries and resulting surgeries.
He was detained in August 2021, when he reportedly had approximately half an ounce of medically-prescribed marijuana. In June of this year, he was sentenced to 14 years in a Russian prison after he was convicted of “large-scale drugs smuggling,” according to officials and reports.
“This is not a time for partisanship,” Democratic Rep. Brendan Boyle, a cosponsor of the bill who represents Pennsylvania’s 2nd Congressional District said. “This is a time to come together, as Pennsylvanians and as Americans, to do everything we can to bring home Marc Fogel,”
“I’m hopeful this legislation will lead to Marc being designated as ‘wrongfully detained’ so we can finally get Marc home. Families of detained Americans deserve to have as much information about their loved one’s case as possible. I’m proud to co-lead this bipartisan legislation with my colleagues from Pennsylvania in Marc Fogel’s name. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of Marc and his suffering family.”
Fogel’s sister, Lisa Hyland, told Fox News Digital that the family says his health “continues to deteriorate both mentally and physically.” She continued, “The family is extremely grateful to the Pennsylvania House members for their efforts, and hope this will shine a brighter light on Marc’s case.”
Sasha Phillips, an attorney who is assisting Fogel’s family with his case, told Fox News Digital that an acquittal, a pardon, or even a reduction of his sentence are “highly unlikely” and “the recent wave of government-stirred xenophobia has reduced Marc’s chances of receiving a fair appeal adjudication to zero.”
“In other words, besides the U.S. Government, Marc Fogel has nowhere else to turn for help. The U.S. diplomatic engagement and intervention are essential to Marc’s return to the United States. Considering Marc’s rapidly declining physical and mental health, his safe return to the U.S. should be prioritized accordingly – we need to bring him home NOW.”
A little over a year after Fogel was arrested in Russia, the State Department secured the release of WNBA star Brittney Griner who was detained in Russia on marijuana charges. In exchange for Griner’s release, the U.S. government exchanged convicted Russian arms dealer Viktor Bout, who was known as the “Merchant of Death” and in the middle of a 25-year sentence in federal prison after he was convicted of conspiracy to kill Americans relating to the support of a Colombian terrorist organization.
Russia is also holding American Paul Whelan, a former Marine who has been in Russian custody for over four years after being convicted on charges of espionage and spying for the U.S. government for which he was sentenced to 16 years in prison. Whelan and the U.S. have denied the charges as the 53-year-old remains imprisoned at a labor camp in Russia’s Mordovia republic.
In addition to Whelan and Fogel, Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich has been imprisoned in Russia since late March after being charged with spying and was recently denied a request to be released before trial.
In addition to the Americans detained in Russia, Americans across the globe are facing wrongful detentions including in China where 38-year-old American Mark Swidan is facing the death penalty for drug charges the United Nations determined were baseless.
The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Fox News Digital.
Fox News Digital’s Stephanie Pagones and Ryan Gaydos contributed to this report