Criminal Justice

Two years later, Marc Fogel remains in Russian prison

The Pennsylvania teacher’s case and lawmakers’ attempts to bring him home

A portrait of Marc Fogel by Debra Tobin made for The Make A Marc Art Exhibit on April 1, 2023

A portrait of Marc Fogel by Debra Tobin made for The Make A Marc Art Exhibit on April 1, 2023 Debra Tobin

It’s now been more than two years since Pennsylvania teacher Marc Fogel was first imprisoned in Russia. The Butler County native and history teacher, who was approaching 10 years teaching at a Russian school, was detained on Aug. 14, 2021, after attempting to enter the country with medical marijuana prescribed for his chronic back pain.  

The 62-year-old Fogel was then sentenced to 14 years in prison in June 2022. His case, which has drawn comparisons to that of professional women’s basketball player Brittney Griner, who was released in December, has resulted in family, friends and many other Pennsylvanians calling for his release. 

“It’s hard to know,” Anne Fogel said of her brother’s condition during a Washington, D.C. rally last month. “We’re able to talk to Marc, but we don’t really ever get a sense of how he’s doing. He doesn’t feel comfortable sharing that.” 

As part of their efforts, the family and friends of Fogel – who taught history at schools attended by children of U.S. diplomats in Colombia, Venezuela, Oman and Malaysia prior to his tenure in Russia – have met with several lawmakers and called upon the White House to do whatever it takes to bring him home.

Lawmakers have argued that Fogel meets at least six of the eleven established criteria required to be designated as wrongfully detained, according to the State Department.  

Last month, a group of bipartisan lawmakers, including the commonwealth’s congressional delegation, introduced a resolution urging President Joe Biden to prioritize securing the release of Fogel and other wrongfully detained U.S. citizens. 

“We cannot sit by while Putin’s Russia plays political games with the lives of Americans like my Western Pennsylvania constituent Marc Fogel,” U.S. Rep. Chris Deluzio, a Democrat representing the 17th congressional district and Fogel’s hometown, said in a statement following the resolution’s introduction. “Marc faces unjust and disproportionate charges for possession of his legally prescribed medical marijuana. Further, I am concerned that he is living in abysmal and harsh conditions that could threaten his health. We have got to bring Marc home.”

The bipartisan resolution also comes a month after a similar group of bipartisan lawmakers introduced the Marc Fogel Act, legislation that would require more transparency from the State Department to Congress on how wrongful detainment determinations are made.

“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,” U.S. Rep. Guy Reschenthaler said in a release announcing the legislation. “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.”

In addition to Griner’s case, discussions of Fogel’s detainment have been mixed with those involving fellow detained U.S. citizens Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive accused of spying, and Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who faces espionage charges. 

Last month, President Biden said he is “serious” about negotiating the release of the wrongfully detained Americans. 

“I’m serious about doing what we can to free Americans who are being illegally held in Russia or anywhere else for that matter. And that process is underway,” Biden said. 

Anne Fogel told KDKA she remains hopeful her brother will return and that they’re willing to do whatever it takes to bring him back. 

“I hope that the White House sees that Marc has a great deal of support and has put so much more into the world than he’s taken out, and he deserves to be backed by his country,” she said during that interview.