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Jailed Kremlin critic Navalny goes on hunger strike in protest over treatment

The opposition politician accused prison officials of refusing to provide him with adequate medical treatment.

Image: Alexander Zemlianichenko

JAILED KREMLIN CRITIC Alexei Navalny said today he is going on hunger strike until he receives proper medical treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his legs. 

President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, who is serving a 2.5-year sentence in one of Russia’s most notorious penal colonies, said he was losing sensation in both legs and demanded he be properly treated. 

The 44-year-old said he was suffering from a pinched nerve that had first caused his right leg to go numb and accused prison officials of refusing to provide him with adequate medical treatment. 

He complained he had only been given painkillers, but had not been properly diagnosed. 

In a post on Instagram today, Navalny said that the back pain was now causing a loss of feeling in his left leg, too. 

“I have gone on a hunger strike demanding that the law be obeyed and that a doctor be allowed to visit me,” he said. 

Navalny, who is considered a flight risk by authorities, last week filed two complaints against prison authorities, saying he is woken eight times a night by guards announcing to a recording camera that he is still in his cell. 

Today, he said that instead of receiving medical treatment he is continuing to be “tortured through sleep deprivation”.

“From outside it looks complicated. But on the inside it’s simple: you have no other way to fight back, so you go on hunger strike,” he added. “I’m hungry, but at least I have both legs.”

He added that he was lying in bed with a Bible in hand – the only book he has managed to receive so far. 

‘Jokes aside’ 

Navalny was detained in mid-January after returning to Russia from Germany, where he had been recovering for several months from a poisoning attack with Novichok nerve agent he says was orchestrated by the Kremlin. 

He spent February between detention centres and courtrooms in Moscow where he was on trial for allegedly slandering a World War II veteran and violating the terms of an old suspended sentence handed down for fraud. 

Last week he said he believed he had suffered a pinched nerve from routinely being ferried in police wagons and standing “crookedly” in court cages for defendants. 

He joked that he did not want to “part with” his right leg and quipped about becoming a one-legged pirate. 

But today, Navalny’s tone was more urgent. “I have the right to ask for a doctor and receive medicine,” he wrote. “Jokes aside but this is already bothering me.” 

Navalny is serving out his sentence in the town of Pokrov, 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow, in a penal colony infamous for harsh discipline. 

Rights activists say Penal Colony No.2 is one of Russia’s worst and his Navalny’s wife Yulia has appealed directly to Putin to set his critic free. 

In his first message from the penal colony this month, Navalny described the prison as “a real concentration camp”, and said he was “surprised” by the poor conditions. 

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‘Slowly being killed’

The opposition figure has regularly posted messages on social media since his incarceration, though his spokespeople have declined to explain how he has done so as the Kremlin critic does not apparently have access to the internet. 

Today, Navalny’s ally Lyubov Sobol, who went on hunger strike in 2019 after she and a raft of other opposition politicians were barred from balloting in local elections, said that watching his ordeal was “very painful”. 

“Navalny is slowly being killed in prison,” she wrote on Twitter. Navalny’s allies and Western governments say his prosecution is politically motivated. 

Washington and Brussels have imposed sanctions on Moscow for jailing Navalny and for allegedly ordering and executing last year’s poisoning, a charge Russia has denied. 

Last month Europe’s rights court had called on Russia to release the Kremlin critic out of concern for his life, but Moscow rejected the call. 

His arrest and jailing sparked large-scale demonstrations in late January and early February and his team has announced plans to stage “modern Russia’s biggest protest” later this year.

© – AFP, 2020

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