Federal judge blocks restrictive Missouri abortion law

FILE PHOTO: Abortion rights advocates attend a rally after a judge granted a temporary restraining order on the closing of Missouri's sole remaining Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis, Missouri, U.S. May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Lawrence Bryant/File Photo

(Reuters) – A federal judge on Tuesday blocked Missouri from enforcing a law banning abortion in the state after eight weeks except in cases of medical emergency.

The law was set to take effect on Wednesday, but U.S. District Judge Howard Sachs in Kansas City ruled that the state not enforce it, pending litigation or further order of the court, according to a court document.

The ban, like others by U.S. states this year, was written in the knowledge it would likely be struck down but with the hope it would prompt the U.S. Supreme Court to review its landmark 1973 decision protecting abortion rights.

“While federal courts should generally be very cautious before delaying the effect of State laws, the sense of caution may be mitigated when the legislation seems designed, as here, as a protest against Supreme Court decisions,” the judge wrote.

“The hostility to, and refusal to comply with, the Supreme Court’s abortion jurisprudence is most obviously demonstrated in the attempt to push ‘viability’ protection downward in various weekly stages to 8 weeks.”

Women’s healthcare provider Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sued Missouri last month over the law, which also bans abortions sought on the grounds of the fetus’ race, sex or disability and makes it a felony for doctors to perform abortions in violation of the law.

Planned Parenthood’s Missouri clinic and the ACLU have argued the law will cause “significant and irreparable constitutional, medical, emotional” harm to patients in that state, who may not even know they are pregnant at eight weeks, according to court documents.

The law declares Missouri to be a “sanctuary of life” that protects “pregnant women and their unborn children.” It does not make exceptions for cases of rape and incest, and it includes a provision that would trigger a statewide abortion ban if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns its 1973 ruling in Roe v. Wade, which established a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

Abortion is one of the most divisive political issues in the United States. Several conservative states have passed restrictive laws on abortion in 2019 to try to make the Supreme Court revisit the constitutional issue.

Missouri has been at the center of the nation’s escalating abortion debate, as Planned Parenthood is fighting a state health department decision not to renew the license of the provider’s clinic in St. Louis, the only abortion clinic in the state.

(Reporting by Gabriella Borter in New York; additional reporting by Andrew Hay; editing by Scott Malone, Steve Orlofsky and Jonathan Oatis)

Epstein’s accusers appear in court at hearing weeks after his suicide

Gloria Allred, representing alleged victims of Jeffrey Epstein, arrives with an unidentified women for a hearing in the criminal case against Jeffrey Epstein, who died this month in what a New York City medical examiner ruled a suicide, at Federal Court in New York, U.S., August 27, 2019. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

By Brendan Pierson

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Women who say Jeffrey Epstein sexually abused them voiced anger and defiance in a packed New York courtroom on Tuesday during a dramatic hearing less than three weeks after the financier killed himself while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

“I feel very angry and sad that justice has never been served in this case,” Courtney Wild, one of the women, told the hearing before U.S. District Judge Richard Berman.

“I will not let him win in death,” another woman, Chauntae Davies, told the court.

Federal prosecutors appeared at the hearing to ask the judge to formally dismiss their case against Epstein.

Berman explained why he gave the women and their lawyers an opportunity to address the court.

“The victims have been included in the proceeding today both because of their relevant experiences and because they should always be involved before, rather than after, the fact,” Berman said at the outset of the hearing.

Epstein, who once counted U.S. President Donald Trump and former President Bill Clinton as friends, was arrested on July 6 and pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking involving dozens of girls as young as 14.

The 66-year-old was found dead Aug. 10 in his cell at the Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC) in Lower Manhattan. An autopsy concluded that he hanged himself.

Davies said she was hired by Epstein to give massages. The financier raped her the third or fourth time they met on his private island and continued to abuse her, Davies said.

Another woman, who chose not to give her name, said Epstein’s death must be investigated.

“We do need to know how he died. It felt like a whole new trauma. … It didn’t feel good to wake up that morning and find that he allegedly committed suicide,” she said, holding back tears.

Another unnamed woman said she came to New York to become a model and was victimized by Epstein.

“I’m just angry that he’s not alive to have to pay the price for his actions,” she said.

Berman ordered prosecutors and defense lawyers for Epstein to appear in court after the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office said it wanted to dismiss the indictment against the financier in light of his jail cell death.

‘CURIOUS’ DEATH

During the hearing, attorney Brad Edwards, who represents women who say they were sexually abused by Epstein, said, “I have in the courtroom today 15 victims I represent and have represented over the years. There are at least 20 more who didn’t make this hearing today.”

Edwards said Epstein’s “untimely death” was “curious,” adding: “More so, it makes it absolutely impossible for the victims to ever get the day in court that they wanted, and to get full justice. That now can never happen.”

At the hearing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Maurene Comey said the law required the dismissal of the case in light of Epstein’s death, but said the government’s investigation was ongoing.

“Dismissal of this indictment as to Jeffrey Epstein in no way prohibits or inhibits the government’s ongoing investigation into potential co-conspirators,” Comey said.

Epstein’s death has triggered investigations by the FBI, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Inspector General and the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, which runs the detention facility.

Epstein’s arrest in New York came more than a decade after Epstein avoided being prosecuted on similar federal charges in Florida by striking a deal that allowed him to plead guilty to state prostitution charges.

That deal, which has been widely criticized as too lenient, resulted in Epstein serving 13 months in a county jail, which he was allowed to leave during the day on work release.

Brittany Henderson, a lawyer with Edwards’ firm, read a statement from another victim, Michelle Licata.

“I was told then that Jeffrey Epstein was going to be held accountable, but he was not,” she said of the earlier investigation. “The case ended without me knowing what was going on. … I was treated like I did not matter.”

Multiple women have filed civil lawsuits against Epstein’s estate since his death, saying he abused them and seeking damages. Some have alleged the abuse continued after his plea deal and even while he was on work release from his previous jail sentence.

Just two days before his death, Epstein signed a will placing all of his property, worth more than $577 million, in a trust, according to a copy of the document seen by Reuters.

(Reporting By Brendan Pierson in New York; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Will Dunham)

Christian couple can sue over Minnesota same-sex marriage video law

FILE PHOTO: A rose is seen on a giant rainbow flag at a pro same-sex marriage party after couples registered their marriages in Taipei, Taiwan May 24, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

By Jonathan Stempel

(Reuters) – A federal appeals court on Friday revived a lawsuit by a Minnesota couple challenging a state law requiring that their video production company film same-sex weddings, which they say violates their Christian beliefs.

In a 2-1 decision, the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Paul, Minnesota, said Angel and Carl Larsen can try to show that the law violates their rights to free speech and freely exercise their religious beliefs under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

Circuit Judge David Stras, an appointee of President Donald Trump, called videos by the St Cloud, Minnesota couple “a medium for the communication of ideas about marriage,” and said the state’s law “is targeting speech itself.”

The court ordered U.S. District Judge John Tunheim in Minneapolis to decide whether the Larsens and their Telescope Media Group deserve a preliminary injunction against the law, which subjects violators to fines and possible jail time. Tunheim had dismissed the lawsuit in September 2017.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose office defended the law, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

“Angel and I serve everyone,” Carl Larsen said, in a statement provided by his lawyers at Alliance Defending Freedom. “We just can’t produce films promoting every message.”

The case is among several in recent years where private business owners or individuals invoked their religious beliefs to deny services to same-sex couples.

In June, for example, the Washington Supreme Court ruled for a second time against a Christian florist for refusing to sell flowers to a same-sex couple for their wedding, setting up a potential clash at the U.S. Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, Kentucky county clerk Kim Davis in 2015 cited her religious beliefs in refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

Same-sex marriage became legal in Minnesota in 2013, and nationwide in 2015.

The Larsens said they wanted to use their talents to honor God, including by producing wedding videos promoting marriage as a “sacrificial covenant between one man and one woman.”

Minnesota objected, saying the Larsens had to produce videos of same-sex weddings as well as opposite-sex weddings, or else produce none.

But in Friday’s decision, Stras said the Larsens could try to show that Minnesota law interfered with their message “by requiring them to say something they otherwise would not.”

He distinguished antidiscrimination laws targeting conduct and only incidentally affecting speech, calling it “unquestionably” acceptable to require an employer to remove a “White Applicants Only” sign.

Circuit Judge Jane Kelly dissented, saying the majority’s approach could support treating customers differently based on sex, race, religion and disability.

“Nothing stops a business owner from using today’s decision to justify new forms of discrimination tomorrow,” she wrote. “In this country’s long and difficult journey to combat all forms of discrimination, the court’s ruling represents a major step backward.”

The case is Telescope Media Group et al v Lucero, 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 17-3352.

(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio)

Dozens of child sex abuse victims sue Catholic Church in New York after change in law

FILE PHOTO: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference in New York, U.S., September 14, 2018. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Dozens of people in New York state who were victims of sexual abuse as children sued the Roman Catholic Church in New York on Wednesday, the first day a new law temporarily enabled them to file lawsuits over decades-old crimes.

More than 70 people have filed lawsuits against the Roman Catholic Church in New York as of early Wednesday, according to the New York County Supreme Court records, most of them accusing priests of sexually abusing them as children and church leaders of covering up the priests’ crimes.

The state’s landmark Child Victims Act, which is effective from Wednesday and will scrap, for one year, a statute of limitations that had barred older complaints and which critics said was too restrictive. The law is expected to lead to hundreds of lawsuits against churches, schools and youth groups.

The change in the law means people of any age in New York state have a year to file a retroactive sexual abuse lawsuit against an alleged offender.

The bill amends “New York’s antiquated laws to ensure that perpetrators are held accountable for their actions, regardless of when the crime occurred,” New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office said in a statement after he signed the measure into law in February.

At least one woman who said she was sexually abused by the late Jeffrey Epstein sued the disgraced financier’s estate early on Wednesday, and more were expected to follow.

A lawsuit was also filed against Boy Scouts of America, accusing the national organization of knowingly employing thousands of leaders who were suspected of molesting children.

Cases are expected to be filed in the coming weeks against churches, schools, hospitals and other institutions across New York City, with defendants ranging from the plaintiffs’ relatives and neighbors to members of the clergy.

One law firm, Weitz & Luxenberg, said it would file 400 lawsuits under the Child Victims Act just in New York City, with plaintiffs ranging from teenagers to people in their 90s. Statewide, the firm said it was representing more than 1,200 people who were victims of sexual abuse as children.

A separate group of law firms, including Seeger Weiss, said it would be representing at least 170 plaintiffs across the state, many with complaints against the Roman Catholic Church.

After the one-year period expires, victims will have until the age of 55 to sue alleged abusers.

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes and Gabriella Borter, additonal reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico, writing by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Bernadette Baum)

Puerto Rico’s new governor is challenged in court: newspaper

FILE PHOTO: Pedro Pierluisi holds a news conference after swearing in as Governor of Puerto Rico in San Juan, Puerto Rico August 2, 2019. REUTERS/Gabriella N. Baez/File Photo

(Reuters) – The legitimacy of Puerto Rico’s newly-installed governor has been challenged in court, the Wall Street Journal reported on Monday, adding further drama to who will lead the U.S. territory after weeks of protests.

Pedro Pierluisi, the handpicked successor to disgraced former governor Ricardo Rossello, was sworn in on Friday.

Pierluisi, 60, said his term might be short as the island’s Senate still had to ratify his position.

That vote was expected to happen on Wednesday.

But late on Sunday, Puerto Rico Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz sued Pierluisi in a San Juan court, claiming he usurped the office by ignoring a constitutional requirement for the Senate to vote to confirm him, the Journal reported.

Pierluisi, a lawyer who formerly advised the despised, federally-created board supervising Puerto Rico’s bankruptcy, was sworn in even though his appointment had not yet gone before the Senate for a vote.

The lawsuit asks the court to strip him of the title and stop him performing any acts as governor, the Journal reported.

Reuters could not confirm the lawsuit, nor reach Pierluisi or Schatz for comment early on Monday.

At his first news conference as governor last week, Pierluisi acknowledged that Puerto Rico’s Senate was still to meet to vote on whether to confirm his position.

Schatz has previously said that installing Pierluisi before the vote was “unethical and illegal.”

But Pierluisi had countered: “The Senate will have its say and by the end of Wednesday we’ll know whether I am ratified.”.

If he is not ratified then the second in line, the secretary of justice of Puerto Rico, will take over the governorship, he said.

Rossello, a 40-year-old, first-term governor, had tapped Pierluisi as secretary of state, a position putting him first in line as successor.

The island’s leading newspaper El Nuevo Dia subsequently reported that Schatz had rescheduled the session to vote on the appointment for Monday.

Pierluisi’s statement capped a week of political chaos in Puerto Rico after Rossello said he would resign over offensive chat messages that drew around a third of the island’s 3.2 million people to the streets in protest.

The chats between Rossello and top aides took aim at female politicians and gay celebrities like Ricky Martin, and poked fun at ordinary Puerto Ricans.

The publication of the messages unleashed anger building for years in Puerto Rico over the island’s painful bankruptcy process, ineffective hurricane recovery efforts and corruption scandals linked to a string of past governors, including Rossello’s father.

Until an appointment was confirmed by both chambers, Schatz and other senators said the next in line for governor, under law, was Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez.

(Reporting by Rich McKay; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

U.S. judge declines to block Trump’s new asylum border rule

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers make an arrest after carrying out a raid in San Francisco, California, U.S. in this July 7, 2019 handout photo. Ron Rogers/U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – A U.S. district judge on Wednesday declined to block a new rule that bars almost all immigrants from applying for asylum at the country’s southern border, handing a victory to U.S. President Donald Trump’s crackdown on immigration.

Judge Timothy Kelly in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied a temporary restraining order that would have blocked a rule the Trump administration implemented on July 16 that requires asylum-seekers to first pursue safe haven in a third country through which they had traveled on their way to the United States, according to a court filing.

Oral arguments took place on Monday.

The ruling was issued in a lawsuit filed by the Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.

The suit is similar to an action led by the American Civil Liberties Union that challenged the Trump administration rule in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. That case is due for a hearing on Wednesday.

Trump’s rule to restrict asylum-seekers was his latest anti-immigration measure ahead of the 2020 presidential election. Trump promised during the 2016 campaign to build a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States.

The Trump administration has issued a rapid-fire series of anti-immigration edicts recently, the latest coming on Monday with a new rule to expedite deportations for immigrants who have crossed illegally and are caught anywhere in the United States, expanding a program typically applied only along the southern border with Mexico.

Democrats have blasted the policies as cruel, faulting the Trump administration for warehousing migrants in crowded detention facilities along the border and separating immigrant children from the adults they have traveled with.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Daniel Trotta; Editing by David Gregorio and Paul Simao)

Trump drops census citizenship question, vows to get data from government

U.S. President Donald Trump stands with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Attorney General Bill Barr to announce his administration's effort to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census during an event in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, U.S., July 11, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

By Jeff Mason and David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump retreated on Thursday from adding a contentious question on citizenship to the 2020 census, but insisted he was not giving up his fight to count how many non-citizens are in the country and ordered government agencies to mine their databases.

Trump’s plan to add the question to the census hit a roadblock two weeks ago when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against his administration, which had said new data on citizenship would help to better enforce the Voting Rights Act, which protects minority rights.

The court ruled, in considering the litigation by challengers, that the rationale was “contrived.” Critics of the effort said asking about citizenship in the census would discriminate against racial minorities and was aimed at giving Republicans an unfair advantage in elections by lowering the number of responses from people in areas more likely to vote Democratic.

Trump, a Republican, and his supporters say it makes sense to know how many non-citizens are living in the country.

“We will utilize these vast federal databases to gain a full, complete and accurate count of the non-citizen population, including databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. We have great knowledge in many of our agencies,” Trump said in remarks in the White House Rose Garden on Thursday. “We will leave no stone unturned,” he said.

Trump said he was not reversing course.

“We are not backing down on our effort to determine the citizenship status of the United States population,” he said.

But there could be more legal challenges ahead for the administration because the U.S. Constitution states that every person living in the country should be counted to determine state-by-state representation in Congress and that is done every 10 years in the Census, not by other means.

“We will vigorously challenge any attempt to leverage census data for unconstitutional redistricting methods,” said Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, a law and policy institute at the NYU School of Law.

Waldman said his group would also challenge “any administration move to violate the clear and strong rules protecting the privacy of everyone’s responses, including the rules barring the use of personal census data to conduct law or immigration enforcement activities.”

IMMIGRATION POLICIES

Trump, who has made hard-line policies on immigration a feature of his presidency and his campaign for re-election in 2020, said he was ordering every government agency to provide the Department of Commerce with all requested records regarding the number of citizens and non-citizens. The U.S. Census Bureau is part of the Commerce Department.

“That information will be useful for countless purposes, as the president explained in his remarks today,” U.S. Attorney General William Barr said in a statement.

Barr cited a legal dispute on whether illegal immigrants can be included for determining apportionment of congressional districts. “Depending on the resolution of that dispute, this data may possibly prove relevant. We will be studying the issue.”

The approach announced by Trump on Thursday was similar to the one proposed by a Census Bureau official to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, according to a memorandum made public by congressional Democrats in 2018. It said the costs of adding a citizenship question to the Census would be high, but using existing administrative records would not.

Opponents called Thursday’s decision a defeat for the administration, but promised they would look closely to determine the legality of Trump’s new plan to compile and use citizenship data outside of the census.

Rights groups in citizenship-question lawsuits in federal courts in New York and Maryland have no plans to abandon the litigation, Sarah Brannon of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, and John Yang, president of Asian Americans Advancing Justice, said on a conference call with reporters.

They also see potential for future litigation over the Trump administration’s collection of data, as well as how those data are used in state redistricting.

“We will sue as necessary,” Brannon said.

The Census is also used to distribute some $800 billion in federal services, including public schools, Medicaid benefits, law enforcement and highway repairs.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and David Shepardson; additional reporting by Roberta Rampton, Doina Chiacu, Makini Brice and Eric Beech in Washington and Andrew Chung and Lauren LaCapra in New York; Writing by Patricia Zengerle; Editing by Grant McCool and Leslie Adler)

U.S. rights groups, doctors sue to stop Georgia ‘heartbeat’ abortion ban

FILE PHOTO: Abortion-rights campaigners attend a rally against new restrictions on abortion passed by legislatures in eight states including Alabama and Georgia, in New York City, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

(Reuters) – A group of civil rights organizations, doctors and clinics sued Georgia’s government on Friday to overturn a law passed in March that bans abortions if an embryonic or fetal heartbeat can be detected.

The law, which was passed by Republicans, will make abortion possible only in the first few weeks of a pregnancy absent a medical emergency, in many cases before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. It is due to take effect in January.

“This law is an affront to the dignity and health of Georgians,” the lawsuit, which was filed by the Center for Reproductive Rights on behalf of the plaintiffs, said. It said that Georgians, particularly black Georgians, already die from pregnancy-related causes at a higher rate than in most other U.S. states.

At least four other Republican-led states this year passed laws dramatically limiting abortion. The laws are in conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which found that women have a constitutional right to abort a pregnancy.

Some religious conservatives hope the passage of such laws will force the Supreme Court, in which conservative-leaning justices hold the majority, to revisit and even overturn the Roe v. Wade decision. Until the new law takes effect, Georgians are allowed to get an abortion until about the 20th week of pregnancy, with narrow exceptions.

The lawsuit names Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, Georgia Attorney General Christopher Carr, and other state government and medical officials as defendants. The lawsuit asks a judge to block the law from being enforced.

A spokeswoman for Carr, Katie Byrd, said by email that her office could not comment on pending litigation. A spokesman for Kemp did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

A doctor who performs an abortion after an embryonic or fetal heartbeat is detected could be imprisoned for up to 10 years under Georgia’s new law.

Defenders of the law say they believe an embryo or a fetus should be afforded similar rights to those of a baby, often citing religious arguments in their support.

The law’s opponents say denying women abortions has already been deemed unconstitutional, and note that abortion restrictions force some women to turn to riskier means to end a pregnancy, which can sometimes be deadly.

(Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Additional reporting by Peter Szekely; Editing by Susan Thomas and Bill Trott)

Ex-U.S. Marine accused of spying by Russia asks Trump to help

Former U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who was detained and accused of espionage, speaks inside a defendants' cage during a court hearing to consider an appeal to extend his detention in Moscow, Russia June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A former U.S. Marine held in Russia on suspicion of spying called on U.S. President Donald Trump and the leaders of Britain, Canada and Ireland to help him as he appeared in court at an appeal hearing on Thursday.

Paul Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies. If found guilty, he faces up to 20 years in jail.

Whelan said last month that he had been threatened by a Russian investigator in custody and harassed, accusations that added to strains in U.S.-Russian relations.

“Mr president (Trump), we cannot keep America great unless we aggressively protect and defend American citizens wherever they are in the world,” Whelan told reporters at a hearing in Moscow on Thursday.

“I am asking the leaders and governments in Ottawa, Dublin, London and Washington for their help and public statements of support,” he said, standing inside a glass cage.

Whelan’s lawyer has said his client was framed and that he was given a flash drive by an acquaintance that he thought contained holiday photos, but that actually held classified information.

Whelan was in court on Thursday to appeal against the extension of his custody until Aug. 29. The court ruled against him.

(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Russia extends detention of ex-U.S. Marine accused of spying

Former U.S. marine Paul Whelan who is being held on suspicion of spying talks with his lawyers Vladimir Zherebenkov and Olga Kralova, as he stands in the courtroom cage after a ruling regarding extension of his detention, in Moscow, Russia, February 22, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

By Tom Balmforth and Alexander Reshetnikov

MOSCOW (Reuters) – A Russian court on Friday ruled that Paul Whelan, a former U.S. Marine accused of spying, should be held in a pre-trial detention facility for a further three months to give investigators more time to look into his case.

Whelan, who holds U.S., British, Canadian and Irish passports, was detained in a Moscow hotel room on Dec. 28 and accused of espionage, a charge he denies. If found guilty, he could be imprisoned for up to 20 years.

The case has put further strain on already poor U.S.-Russia relations as has that of another detained American, private equity chief Michael Calvey.

Russia’s Federal Security Service detained Whelan after an acquaintance handed him a flash drive containing classified information. Whelan’s lawyer says his client was misled.

Whelan had met the same person in the town of Sergiev Possad in May last year where they visited the town’s monastery and other tourist sites, the lawyer, Vladimir Zherebenkov, told reporters on Friday.

When Whelan returned to Russia again in December to attend a wedding, the same acquaintance unexpectedly turned up and gave him a flash drive containing what Whelan thought were photographs of the earlier trip, the lawyer said.

“Paul and I consider this was a provocation and a crime by his acquaintance,” said Zherebenkov, saying Whelan had known the man, whom he did not name, for several years.

Whelan on Friday appeared in court in a cage and looked downcast when he spoke briefly to reporters before masked security officials cut him off.

“I could do with care packages, food, things like that, letters from home,” Whelan said.

The court on Friday said Whelan would be held in pre-trial detention until May 28, extending an earlier ruling to keep him in custody until Feb. 28.

The U.S. embassy in Moscow said a consular official had visited Whelan in custody on Thursday.

It said, however, that it was unable to provide further information as Whelan had not been allowed by investigators to sign a privacy act waiver (PAW) that would legally allow the U.S. government to release information about the case.

“In every other instance, we have been able to obtain a signed PAW, but in Mr. Whelan’s case, the Investigative Committee is not allowing this to happen. Why is this case any different?” embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan wrote on Twitter.

(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Maxim Rodionov; editing by Andrew Osborn)