The Russian prison service said Monday it had moved imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny to a prison hospital after supporters warned his condition had worsened in a hunger strike for nearly three weeks.
Navalny, 44, has been transferred to an institution that “specializes in dynamic care for similar patients” and is in “satisfactory condition” under the daily supervision of a physician, the Federal Penitentiary Service said in a statement. He has agreed to take vitamins, it added.
The anti-corruption activist’s supporters say his life hangs “by a thread” on elevated creatine levels that can cause kidney failure, as well as potentially fatal potassium levels that can cause cardiac arrest “anytime”.
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, went on a hunger strike last month in protest at prison conditions, which he likened to “torture”.
Guards have refused to send him to a doctor of his choice for severe nerve pain from two hernias in his back. After going on the hunger strike, Navalny claimed that guards began grilling chicken in front of him and putting sweets in his pockets to tease him.
Ivan Zhdanov, the head of the Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said in a tweet that the prison hospital was “ just as much a torture camp, only with a large medical unit where they transfer the seriously ill. The only way to understand this is that Navalny’s condition has deteriorated. So much so that even a torture camp admits it. “
Navalny’s health has deteriorated as the Kremlin appears increasingly determined to destroy his movement. His supporters, they hope, are staging the biggest Russian protests ever for Wednesday, when Putin will deliver his annual State of the National speech.
On Monday, the prosecutor’s office said it would sue social media companies that failed to remove calls for the protest from their platforms and punish the parents of underage children who attended.
The Russian Interior Ministry called on people to avoid the protests. “Any aggressive actions by participants in unapproved public events will be treated as a threat to public safety and immediately destroyed,” he said in a statement.
Prosecutors last week said they would decide to declare Navalny’s organization ‘extremist’, equate it with Islamist terror groups and expose his supporters to charges of up to 10 years in prison. Most of the group’s top leaders are in exile or under house arrest, while police have detained several other pro-Navalny activists across Russia in recent weeks.
Navalny was arrested in January immediately after returning from Germany, where he recovered for five months from a nerve infection he blamed on Putin. The Kremlin, which claims Navalny is a US agent seeking to destroy Russia, has denied any involvement in the poisoning, suggesting that Navalny himself made it up to make Putin look bad.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan discussed Navalny “at length” Monday with Nikolai Patrushev, secretary of the Russian Security Council, a White House spokesman told the The Washington City Times.
EU foreign ministers also planned to discuss Navalny’s health at a meeting on Monday. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, said in a tweet on Sunday that she was “deeply concerned” about Navalny’s health and called for “his immediate and unconditional release”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Russia “paid no [attention] whatever ‘to Western calls for Navalny’s release.
“The president cannot make decisions about the health surveillance of prisoners,” Peskov said, according to Interfax news agency. “I have no information about the health of the prisoner in question, and therefore I cannot rely on your claims about his alleged critical condition.”
Additional reporting by Katrina Manson