MOSCOW (AP) – Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is on the third week of a hunger strike while behind bars, will be hospitalized in another prison, Russia’s state prison said Monday, after the doctor of the politician said he could almost be dead.
The prison service, FSIN, also said Navalny had agreed to vitamin therapy, but an ally of the 44-year-old Kremlin critic questioned that and the hospital relocation, saying his lawyers should confirm both.
The service said in a statement that Navalny would be transferred from a penal colony just east of Moscow to a convict hospital at a prison in Vladimir, a city 180 kilometers (110 miles) from the capital. According to the statement, Navalny’s condition is considered “satisfactory”.
But the opposition leader’s doctor, Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin, said Saturday that family test results show Navalny has greatly elevated potassium levels, which can cause cardiac arrest, and elevated creatinine levels, which indicate decreased kidneys.
“Our patient could die any time,” he said in a Facebook post.
Reports of Navalny’s rapidly declining health sparked international outrage and calls urging Russian authorities to provide the politician with adequate medical attention. The European Union’s foreign ministers were reviewing the bloc’s strategy towards Russia Monday in response to the news about his health.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest opponent, was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he had recovered for five months from a nerve poisoning he blames on the Kremlin – allegations that Russian officials have dismissed. Navalny’s arrest sparked a huge wave of protests across Russia, the largest demonstration of resistance in recent years. Shortly afterwards, a court ordered him to serve 2 1/2 years in prison on the basis of a 2014 embezzlement conviction that the European Court of Human Rights deemed “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable”.
Navalny went on a hunger strike in prison to protest his refusal to have his doctors visit when he developed severe back pain and a loss of feeling in his legs. The Russian state prison has said that Navalny has been given all the medical attention he needs.
In response to alarming news about Navalny’s health this weekend, his team called for a nationwide rally on Wednesday, the same day Putin will deliver his annual speech. According to a website devoted to the protests, demonstrations were planned in 77 Russian cities from Monday afternoon.
Russia’s Interior Ministry released a statement on Monday urging Russians not to participate in unauthorized rallies, citing the risks of the coronavirus and alleging that some “destructive” participants could cause unrest. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said police will treat all unauthorized protests as illegal.
Several Navalny allies rejected the move announced by the prison service as insufficient. Navalny’s top strategist, Leonid Volkov, said no one should assume it is happening until the opposition leader’s lawyers confirm it. The lawyers were on their way to the prison where the hospital is, Volkov said.
“Until the lawyers find him, we will not know where he is or what is wrong with him,” Volkov wrote in a Facebook post.
Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, tweeted Monday that the transfer would only take the politician to another “agonizing colony, only with a large clinical facility, where the seriously ill are transferred.”
Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors union and also the politician’s personal physician, noted that it was “ not a hospital where a diagnosis can be made and treatment (can) be prescribed for his conditions. ” but rather “A prison where tuberculosis is treated.”
She again called the prison to show her and other doctors.
Since last month, the politician has served his sentence in a penal colony notorious for its harsh conditions.
Navalny complained of lack of sleep because guards check him every hour at night and said he developed severe back pain and numbness in his legs within weeks of being transferred to the colony. His demands for a visit by an independent ‘citizen’ doctor were rejected by prison officials and he went on a hunger strike on March 31.
In a report from prison on Friday, Navalny said prison officials threatened to force-feed him “at short notice,” using “straitjackets and other pleasures.”
Last weekend, 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 Kristin Scott Thomas – calling for Navalny to have access to the proper medical care.
On Monday, the Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, Dunja Mijatović, reiterated her call for Navalny’s release and to “give him full access to medical care in the face of his serious deterioration in his health”.