Imprisoned Kremlin critic Navalny goes on hunger strike for medical care

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny attends a court hearing

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By Anton Zverev and Andrew Osborn

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny went on hunger strike Wednesday to force the prison holding him outside Moscow to properly care for him in what he described as acute back and leg pain.

The fate of Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, takes center stage after he said last week that being woken up every hour by a security guard means torture and that his appeals for medical treatment have been ignored.

In a handwritten letter to the governor of his prison posted on social media by his team on Wednesday, Navalny said daily requests for a doctor of his choice to examine him and find appropriate medication had been ignored.

“I really need a doctor. Every convicted person has the right (by law) to invite a specialist, examine him and consult him. I too have such a right and I am innocent,” wrote Navalny in the letter.

“I want a doctor to see me and until that happens I am going on a hunger strike.”

After examining Navalny last week, the prison authorities declared his condition stable and satisfactory. The Kremlin has refused to comment on his health as it is a matter for the federal prison service.

On Wednesday, the prison service announced that Navalny had received all the necessary treatments.

“The convicted A. Navalny is receiving the necessary medical help according to his current state of health,” the Interfax news agency quoted the Vladimir Region Federal Prison Service in a statement.

It is also said that regular nighttime checks on prisoners were carried out in accordance with the law and “do not interfere with the rest of the convicts”.

POSSIBLE ‘SERIOUS CONSEQUENCES’

On Sunday, medical professionals published an open letter calling on the 44-year-old politician to receive proper care.

“We fear the worst. If we leave a patient in this condition … it can have serious consequences, including irreversible, total or partial loss of lower limb function,” the letter said.

Navalny has said that what started as an acute back pain spread to his right leg and then to his left leg. The only medication he was given was ibuprofen tablets and cream, he said. Some members of a local prison monitoring group have accused him of feigning his condition.

“I don’t want to lose both legs,” wrote Navalny in the same letter. “It wouldn’t be fair. Everyone has two legs and I don’t have any.”

Navalny was jailed last month for two and a half years for parole violations, which he described as politically motivated. He was arrested when he returned to Russia from Germany in January, where he was recovering from nerve poisoning.

The West, including the European Court of Human Rights, has called for Russia to release Navalny. Moscow, casting doubts about its poisoning, has labeled such appeals as unacceptable interference in its internal affairs.

As a troublemaker supported by the West, the Kremlin has put him on a mission to destabilize Russia with Putin’s spokesman, who connects him with the CIA, which Navalny has denied.

Navalny’s allies have announced plans to hold what is hopefully the largest protest against the Kremlin in modern Russian history this spring. The authorities have said that such protests are illegal.

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