Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to be transferred to hospital

Hunger-striking politician must receive medical aid, EU tells Russia

Supporters of detained Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny stage a demonstration outside Downing Street in London on April 13th. File photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

Supporters of detained Russian opposition leader, Alexei Navalny stage a demonstration outside Downing Street in London on April 13th. File photograph: Facundo Arrizabalaga/EPA

 

Russia’s prison authority said on Monday it had decided to transfer hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to a hospital for prisoners.

The prison service said the 44-year-old opposition politician’s health was in a satisfactory condition and that he was being examined by a doctor on a daily basis.

The prominent opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin announced a hunger strike at the end of March in protest to what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to treat him properly for acute back and leg pain.

Allies of the jailed activist have said Navalny’s life was hanging by a thread and announced plans for what they hope will be the largest protests in modern Russian history on Wednesday, while a top European Union diplomat said Russia must allow Navalny access to proper medical care.

A medical trade union with ties to Navalny said on Saturday he was in a critical condition, citing medical tests which it said showed that Navalny’s kidneys could soon fail, which could lead to cardiac arrest.

The fate of Navalny is adding to already severe strains in Russia’s ties with the West. National security adviser to president of the United States Joe Biden, Jake Sullivan, said on Sunday that the government had told Russia “there will be consequences” if Navalny dies in prison.

EU foreign ministers are expected to discuss the Navalny case on Monday. Josep Borrell, the bloc’s top diplomat, described his situation as “very worrisome” and said Russia must provide treatment.

“We make the Russian authorities responsible for the health situation of Mr Navalny,” Mr Borrell said in a video statement.

Two allies of Navalny, Vladimir Ashurkov and Leonid Volkov, wrote to the EU ministers to urge them to discuss Navalny’s health at their next meeting on Monday, according to a copy of the letter seen by Reuters. Mr Borrell said ministers had received it.

‘Deteriorating’

The letter raised similar health concerns to those voiced by Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who said after visiting him in prison that he was having difficulty speaking and had lost more weight.

“Alexei’s health is steadily deteriorating,” the letter said, citing an unofficial copy of test results that showed spinal problems.

A regional opposition politician, Lev Shlosberg, said on Facebook that more than 20,000 people had signed an online petition demanding “access for competent doctors to Alexei Navalny and the release of all political prisoners in Russia”.

An ally of Navalny said on Monday she was braced for bad news on his health when his lawyers see him again, after they were kept away over the weekend.

“We don’t know what happened to him over the weekend because the lawyers aren’t allowed to visit him then. I hope we will get some news today but I’m very afraid to receive bad news,” Lyubov Sobol told Ekho Moskvy radio station.

“I think there is no hope we will receive good news about his health today. I think his state is really very close to critical, close to being very grave. Twenty days on hunger strike – that is an awful lot.”

Navalny has said prison authorities are threatening to put him in a strait jacket to force-feed him. Russian authorities accuse him of exaggerating his medical condition to grab attention, and of refusing prison medical care. They have pledged to ensure he survives.

Navalny travelled to Germany last August for treatment after being poisoned by a nerve agent in an attack he blamed on Mr Putin.

The Kremlin has said it has seen no evidence Navalny was poisoned and has denied any Russian role if he was.

He was arrested in January when he returned to Russia and jailed for 2½ years in February for parole violations he said were fabricated. – Reuters