U.S. mother visits son in Russian jail
VORONEZH, Russia (AP) – The mother of an American Fulbright student serving a 37-month jail sentence in Russia visited her son for the first time Thursday, saying he was ”in good spirits” despite having contracted Lyme disease in prison and being held in poor conditions.
Alyce Van Etten flew to the central Russian town of Voronezh to meet her 24-year-old son, John Tobin, who was arrested Jan. 26 for possession of a small amount of marijuana and sentenced last month to 37 months in prison on charges of illegally obtaining and distributing drugs.
”Jack is fine. He’s in good spirits, he’s in really good spirits. It was great to see him,” she said with a wide smile after a two-hour visit. ”He feels good. He looks pale, he’s thin, he doesn’t get to see the light of day very much, but he’s in good spirits and it was very comforting for both of us.”
Van Etten and her husband, Jan, had pinned yellow ribbons to their chests during the hour-long plane ride to Voronezh, an industrial city about 300 miles south of Moscow, to signify their hope that the son they call Jack would soon return home.
Although Van Etten seemed relieved to have seen her son, she expressed concern about his health, saying he had contracted Lyme disease and efforts were being made to treat him. Lyme disease, which is usually transmitted by ticks and treated with antibiotics, causes fatigue, fever and joint pain.
”The conditions he’s in are not very good, but he’s handling it very well,” she said.
Tobin, a native of Ridgefield, Conn., and a graduate of Middlebury College, was doing political research at Voronezh State University. He was arrested outside a nightclub and accused of possessing small amounts of marijuana.
Tobin’s case gained widespread attention after the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the Soviet-era KGB, accused him of being an aspiring spy. It cited as evidence his attendance at the U.S. Defense Language Institute in Monterey, Calif., and a military intelligence training center in Fort Huachaca, Ariz.
The accusation of Tobin’s intelligence connections came about a week after the United States’ arrest of FBI agent Robert Philip Hanssen on charges of spying for Russia, which escalated tensions over espionage between Washington and Moscow.
After the visit, the Van Ettens returned to Moscow, where they were to meet with U.S. Embassy officials.
It was not clear when, or if, Russian authorities would allow Van Etten to meet with her son again.
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