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Exclusive: Anne Fogel speaks out on brother’s ‘death sentence’, American teacher held in Russian labor camp for possessing marijuana

Russian detention camp
AP Images

Following the international attention to WNBA player Brittney Griner’s release from Russian imprisonment, one family is hoping to have their story told.

Marc Fogel, a 61-year-old American teacher, was arrested in a Moscow airport when Russian authorities seized roughly 17 grams of medical marijuana from his luggage, prescribed to treat chronic pain.

“He can barely bend over. One leg is much, much smaller than the other. He can’t sit down,” Anne Fogel, Marc’s sister, told WFTL.

Fogel was sentenced to 14 years in a hard labor camp under charges of large-scale drug trafficking, as Russian penal codes outlaw marijuana possession, even for medical use.

Russian penal colonies, the descendants of Stalin-era gulags, are renowned for housing prisoners in strenuous conditions, forced to made do in barracks and assigned daily, backbreaking tasks.

Anne Fogel says these conditions have severely deteriorated her brother’s health.

“His body is pretty fragile. I talked to him yesterday morning, and that is probably the only good thing about him getting to the penal colony, that they are allowed to use a phone,” Anne Fogel said. “We did not talk to him. We did not hear his voice for 14 months. Now we can hear his voice, but of course, he can’t speak freely – it’s pretty much a one-sided conversation.”

Fogel’s family have been intensely fighting for his liberation now more than ever after Brittney Griner’s controversial release, considering the similarity between both cases.

Griner was sentenced to 9 years for possessing less than 1 gram of cannabis oil in cartridges, while Fogel was sentenced to 14 years for possessing half an ounce of medical marijuana.

The State Department decides whether Americans are ‘unlawfully’ detained, like it did with Griner’s instance. U.S. Officials requested Russian authorities to release Fogel on humanitarian grounds, but did not find that he was detained ‘wrongfully,’ according to sources.

The Biden administration faces backlash for their negotiation with Russia, exchanging WNBA player Griner with convicted arms dealer Victor Bout, notoriously nicknamed the “Merchant of Death.”

Bout conspired to supply a terrorist organization with anti-aircraft missiles and was involved in a scheme to ‘kill American officials,’ serving more than 10 years of a minimum 25-year sentence. After his release, Bout joined the liberal Democratic Party of Russia, which can possibly secure him a spot in the parliament.

“He knows, and it was a gut punch,” Anne Fogel said of Griner’s release. “I’m gonna tell you that if there were a Hall of Fame for teachers, he would be in it. He is the pinnacle of teaching. There is no apparatus for recognition of teachers, at least not one we take seriously.”

“Teachers are as valuable as b-ballers, aren’t they?”