Reschenthaler, PA colleagues request State Dept. prioritize safety of Russian-detained teacher

U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) joined a bipartisan, bicameral contingent of two dozen Pennsylvania lawmakers in urging the U.S. State Department to prioritize the release of Russian-detained American citizen Marc Fogel.

Fogel — a teacher who was arrested by Russian authorities on Aug. 14, 2021 in the Sheremetyevo Airport with 17 grams of medical marijuana — on June 16 was sentenced to 14 years of hard labor despite having a prescription for it from a U.S. doctor to treat his chronic pain.

“Various members of Congress from Pennsylvania, as well as senators from across the country, have urged the State Department to take further action, including classifying Mr. Fogel as wrongfully detained,” the lawmakers wrote in an Oct. 31 letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken. “Unfortunately, this designation process has stalled while Mr. Fogel’s health is deteriorating, and his physical safety remains at risk.”

Fogel has taught history at schools attended by the children of U.S. diplomats in Columbia, Venezuela, Oman, Malaysia, and, for the last 10 years, in Russia.

Rep. Reschenthaler said in a statement released on Nov. 1 that he’s “deeply disappointed” that the State Department has not yet classified Fogel as wrongfully detained. “The Biden administration must make every effort to bring all political prisoners home, whether they’re a celebrity athlete or a history teacher from Pittsburgh,” he said. “I urge the State Department to dispense with this bureaucratic nonsense and work with us to reunite Marc Fogel with his family.” 

In their letter, Rep. Reschenthaler and his colleagues requested that in light of the Moscow court’s Aug. 25 decision to deny Fogel’s appeal and his ongoing transfer to a penal colony, that Blinken consider “immediately classifying” Fogel as wrongfully detained and prioritize the department’s work to have him released.

“The State Department has had ample time to reconsider the designation of Mr. Fogel, as over 120 and 50 days, respectively, have passed since his sentencing and appeal,” wrote Rep. Reschenthaler and the lawmakers. “We implore you to give this case the priority and gravity it deserves.” 

Among the 24 lawmakers who joined the congressman in signing the letter were U.S. Reps. Mike Kelly (R-PA), Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), Brian Fitzpatrick (R-PA), and Conor Lamb (D-PA), as well as U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey (R-PA) and Bob Casey (D-PA).