The health of Russian opposition leader Navalny worsens in prison

MOSCOW (AP) – Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny accused prison officials of failing to provide adequate treatment for his back pain and leg problems, saying in a letter posted on Thursday that his physical condition had deteriorated in prison and that now he has difficulty walking.

Navalny blamed his health problems on prison officials who did not provide the right drugs and refused to allow his doctor to visit him behind bars. He also complained in a second letter that the hourly checks that a guard does on him at night amounted to sleep deprivation torture.

Copies of his letters to prison officials and Russia’s top prosecutor were posted on Navalny’s website.

Navalny, 44, is the most outspoken opponent of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested on January 17 on his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nervous agent poisoning he attributes to the Kremlin. Russian authorities rejected the charge.

Last month, Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating the terms of his probation during a convalescence in Germany. The sentence stems from a 2014 conviction for embezzlement that Navalny rejected as forged – and which the European Court of Human Rights found to be illegal.

“My condition has worsened. I feel a sharp pain in my right leg and numbness in the lower part, ”wrote Navalny in the letter. “I have difficulty walking.”

He said the authorities had given him standard pills and ointments for his pain, but had refused to accept medications previously prescribed by his doctor.

He accused prison officials of harming his health with “a deliberate denial of proper medical care”.

The Russian Federal Prison Service said on Thursday that Navalny had undergone medical examinations the day before, describing his condition as “stable and satisfactory”.

But Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, said on Thursday after visiting him in prison that “his right leg is in bad shape”.

Mikhailova said on TV Dozhd that Navalny was taken to a hospital outside his prison on Wednesday for MRI scans, but did not give the results.

She said Navalny experienced back pain for four weeks, but prison officials also refused to allow her doctor to visit. The lawyer argued that the authorities should transfer Navalny to Moscow so that he could receive better treatment.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, said on Instagram that she does not trust the doctors in the prison and asked the authorities to leave the doctors who are trusted by her and her husband to see him. She said prison officials had refused to accept a note from Navalny’s doctor prescribing some exercises to relieve her back pain.

She denounced the treatment of her husband in prison as part of Putin’s “personal vengeance”.

Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, told reporters that the Kremlin was not following Navalny’s conditions, referring questions to the prison service.

Earlier this month, Navalny was transferred to a prison colony in Pokrov, in the Vladimir region, 85 kilometers (53 miles) east of Moscow. The facility stands out among Russian prisons for its particularly strict regime, which includes routines such as standing at attention for hours.

In a note earlier this month, Navalny described the prison, IK-2, as a “friendly concentration camp”. He said he had not seen “not even a hint of violence” there, but he lived under controls that he compared to George Orwell’s “Nineteen eighty-four”.

Navalny, who prison officials had previously marked as a flight hazard, said he was subject to particularly strict supervision, including a guard who woke him up every hour at night and filmed him to demonstrate that he was in the required place.

He complained about the practice in a separate letter to the head of the prison service and the prosecutor, who was also released on Thursday, saying the hourly checks amount to “sleep deprivation torture”.

Navalny’s arrest in January sparked a wave of protests that drew tens of thousands of participants across Russia. Authorities arrested about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or sentenced to seven to 15 days in prison.

Navalny’s associates called for another mass protest across the country earlier this week to demand his release from prison. They asked the Russians to sign up for a protest on an interactive map and said they would set a date for when the number of people willing to participate reached at least 500,000 across the country.

More than 250,000 have registered on a dedicated website since it opened on Tuesday.

Russian authorities rejected the demands of the United States and the European Union to free Navalny and prevent repression of his supporters.


An earlier version corrected Navalny’s lawyer’s last name for Mikhailova, not Volkova,