MOSCOW – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is on a hunger strike in the third week while behind bars, will be admitted to a hospital in another prison, Russia’s state criminal service said on Monday, after a politician’s doctor said he could be nearby. death.
The FSIN prison service also said Navalny had agreed to take vitamin therapy, but an ally of the 44-year-old Kremlin critic cast doubt on that in a hospital transfer as well, saying his lawyers should confirm both.
The service said in a statement that Navalny would be transferred from a penal colony east of Moscow to a hospital for convicts in the prison in Vladimir, a city 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the capital. According to the statement, Navalny’s condition is considered “satisfactory”.
But the doctor of the opposition leader, dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin said on Saturday that the results of tests provided by the family show that Navalny has abruptly raised potassium levels which can lead to cardiac arrest and increased creatinine levels which indicates kidney damage.
Navalny, the fiercest opponent of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from poisoning by nerve agents blamed by the Kremlin – accusations rejected by Russian officials. Navalny’s arrest has sparked a massive wave of protests across Russia, the biggest indicator of defiance in recent years. Shortly afterwards, the court ordered him to serve 2 1/2 years in prison on the basis of a conviction for embezzlement from 2014, which the European Court of Human Rights considered “arbitrary and obviously unreasonable”.
Navalny went on a hunger strike in prison to protest his refusal to allow him to doctors when he began to feel severe back pain and loss of feeling in his legs. Russia’s state penal service said Navalny was receiving all the medical help he needed.
In response to alarming news about Navalny’s health this weekend, his team requested a nationwide gathering on Wednesday, the same day Putin is scheduled to hold his annual address in the country. According to a website dedicated to the protests, demonstrations are planned in 77 Russian cities as of Monday afternoon.
The interior ministry issued a statement Monday urging Russians not to attend unauthorized rallies, citing the risk of coronavirus and stating that some “destructive” participants could cause unrest. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said police would treat any unauthorized protest as illegal. In the past, security forces violently broke up demonstrations.
Russian authorities have already raised their actions against Navalny’s allies and supporters to a new level, as the Moscow prosecutor’s office last week asked the court to label the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation and its network of regional offices as extremist groups.
According to human rights advocates, if this happens, both the foundation and regional offices would be banned, paralyzing their business, and those working for any of them could be prosecuted. Donating money to either of them – something thousands of Russians have been doing on a regular basis in recent years – would also become a prison sentence.
For now, several of Navalny’s allies have dismissed the move of bringing him to a prison hospital as insufficient. Navalny’s chief strategist Leonid Volkov said that no one should assume that this is even happening until the lawyers of the opposition leader confirm it. “Until the lawyers find him, we will not know where he is and what is wrong with him,” Volkov wrote in a post on Facebook.
One of the lawyers arrived at the jail where Navalny was due to be brought in Monday afternoon, but has yet to see the politician, Volkov said.
Ivan Zhdanov, head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, announced on Twitter on Monday that the transfer would only take the politician to another “torture colony, only with a large hospital, to which critically ill patients are transferred.”
Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Navalny-supported Doctors’ Union and also the politician’s personal physician, noted that it was “not a hospital where his disease can be diagnosed and treated, but” a prison where tuberculosis is treated. “
She again asked the prison to allow her and other doctors to see him.
Since last month, the politician has been serving a sentence in a penal colony notorious for its harsh conditions.
Navalny complained that he lacked sleep because guards spent an hour at night, and said he developed severe back pain and numbness in his legs within weeks of being transferred to the colony. Prison officials denied his requests to visit an independent “civilian” doctor, and he went on a hunger strike on March 31.
In a message from prison on Friday, Navalny said prison officials threatened to force-feed him “inevitably,” using “a crazy shirt and other pleasures.”
Over the weekend, the French newspaper Le Monde published a letter to Putin signed by dozens of prominent cultural figures – including writers Salman Rushdie and Mario Vargas Llosa, singer Patti Smith and actors Benedict Cumberbatch and Christine Scott Thomas – urging Navalny to access proper medical care.
On Monday, Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Dunja Mijatovic reiterated her calls for Navalny’s release and “to be given full access to medical care in light of his serious deterioration in health.”