Kremlin critic Navalny complains of sleep deprivation ‘torture’ in Russian jail

Putin foe says he is being denied proper medical care as allies rally support for protests

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny standing in a cage in the Babuskinsky district court in Moscow on February 20th. Photograph: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has accused prison authorities of subjecting him to "torture" through sleep deprivation and damaging his health by denying him proper treatment for a deteriorating back problem.

Mr Navalny was jailed for 2½ years last month for allegedly breaking the terms of a 2014 suspended sentence by not returning immediately to Russia after recovering abroad from a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning in Siberia last August.

The European Union and United States have imposed sanctions on Russian officials for their alleged persecution of Mr Navalny (44), who vows to continue campaigning from his prison cell against Russia's ruler of 20 years, Vladimir Putin.

The Russian prison authorities said on Thursday that Mr Navalny's condition was "stable and satisfactory", but after visiting him later in the day, lawyer Olga Mikhailova said she and her colleagues "really fear for his life and health".


In formal complaints to the prison authorities that were made public by his anti-corruption foundation, Mr Navalny says he has severe pain and numbness in his right leg and is having difficulty walking, but has been denied an examination by a specialist and receives only painkillers and pain-relief cream from prison doctors.

“I regard the deterioration of my health as a direct consequence of the actions and inaction of the [prison] officers, which are deliberately intended to deny me proper medical care and undermine my health,” Mr Navalny wrote.

He also complained that, because he is classified as an “escape risk”, he is woken up and filmed by a prison guard eight times every night.

“It is clear that through such actions [prison] staff . . . are preventing me from sleeping, and so essentially torturing me with sleep deprivation,” he wrote.

Mr Navalny has been Russia's main protest leader for several years, and his team has published many reports on alleged graft among top officials. In January, he accused Mr Putin of secretly building a €1 billion palace beside the Black Sea, in a video that has been watched 115 million times on YouTube.

The campaigner's wife, Yulia, demanded that Mr Putin (68) release him immediately: "He locked him up because he is afraid of political competition and wants to sit on the throne for the rest of his life. What is happening now is personal revenge and payback," she wrote on Instagram.

Dozens of prominent Russian cultural and media figures, including film director Andrei Zvyagintsev and author Lyudmila Ulitskaya, appealed to the authorities on Thursday to "take all measures to create conditions for Alexei Navalny in prison that are normal and do not threaten his health and life".

His team plans to hold nationwide protests when 500,000 people register their intention to take part; by Thursday evening, 255,000 had signed up online.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe