01 Marc Fogel
'A death sentence': American teacher sentenced to 14 years in a penal colony
02:34 - Source: CNN
CNN  — 

The US State Department has asked Russia to release American citizen Marc Fogel on humanitarian grounds, his family and his lawyer told CNN.

His legal team believes the request was made because of his age and his health condition, though the State Department did not provide them with details about the appeal.

Fogel, 61 years old, has chronic back pain which is why he traveled into Russia with cannabis, his family said.

Fogel worked for nearly a decade as a history teacher at the Anglo-American School in Moscow, where children of US diplomats were among his students. He was arrested 11 months ago at an airport in the Russian capital, where he was returning for the school year, after traveling into the country with about 17 grams of cannabis, which his family and lawyer said was recommended by a doctor to treat “severe spinal pain.”

Earlier this week a Russian court rejected Fogel’s appeal – leaving his 14-year sentence intact.

The State Department has not declared Fogel wrongfully detained and would not comment on the appeal.

“We urge the Russian government to ensure fair treatment and appropriate medical care for all U.S. citizens detained in Russia,” a State Department spokesperson said. “The Department continuously reviews the circumstances surrounding the detentions of US nationals overseas, including those in Russia, for indicators that they are wrongful.”

Fogel was originally sentenced at a court just outside of Moscow – the same one where detained WNBA player Brittney Griner was sentenced to nine years in prison earlier this month on drug smuggling charges after she was arrested with less than a gram of cannabis.

Fogel’s family told CNN last month that they fear the 14 years at a Russian hard labor camp amounts to “a death sentence.”

Earlier this week a group of nine bipartisan senators called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to immediately designate Fogel as “wrongfully detained.”

In a letter Tuesday, the senators said they were deeply concerned for Fogel’s safety, and that his lengthy prison sentence “can only be understood as a political ploy by Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian regime.”

“The United States cannot stand by as Mr. Fogel wastes away in a Russian hard labor camp,” wrote Sens. Bob Casey, a Pennsylvania Democrat; Pat Toomey, a Pennsylvania Republican; Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican; Jon Tester, a Montana Democrat; Steve Daines, a Montana Republican; John Hickenlooper, a Colorado Democrat; Joe Manchin, a West Virginia Democrat; Shelly Moore Capito, a West Virginia Republican; and Tim Kaine, a Virginia Democrat.

CNN’s Jennifer Hansler contributed reporting.