Navalny grapples with mystery illness in jail, spokeswoman says

Russian opposition leader reportedly loses 8kg in prison as the Kremlin refuses to comment on his condition.

Russian anti-corruption campaigner and opposition figure Alexei Navalny takes a photo with his mobile phone during a hearing at the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, February 12, 2016. Moscow court hears an appeal by Navalny on the amount of damage, that he needs to pay to the state timber firm Kirovles, local media reported. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Opposition leader Alexey Navalny is serving a total sentence of 11 and a half years in a prison colony east of Moscow [File: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

Alexey Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition politician, is suffering from a mystery ailment in jail and has lost 8kg (17.6 pounds) in a little more than two weeks, his spokeswoman said.

An ambulance was called for Navalny overnight on Friday into Saturday at the maximum-security IK-6 penal colony at Melekhovo, about 250km (115 miles) east of Moscow.

Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, said in a video clip on Twitter that an unknown stomach complaint had flared up on Friday and prison doctors had treated him in the past by injecting him with medicine that they had refused to identify.

“We do not rule out that at this very time, Alexey Navalny is being slowly poisoned, being killed slowly so that it attracts less attention,” Yarmysh said in the Twitter post.

“He is being held in a punishment cell with acute pain without medical help,” she said.

When asked about a potential poisoning of Navalny, the Kremlin said it was not following the state of his health, which was a matter for the federal penitentiary service.

Navalny, who is serving combined sentences of 11.5 years for fraud and contempt of court, said via Twitter on Tuesday that he had been moved back into solitary confinement and forced to endure “extremely hellish” conditions.

Yarmysh said he had suffered similar stomach pains in January after being treated with antibiotics for a virus and had again lost a lot of weight.

The German government said on Wednesday that it was worried about Navalny’s worsening health.

A video documentary about Navalny won an Oscar last month. He has been in and out of isolation in a tiny punishment cell but is allowed to write letters and his lawyers may visit occasionally.

A thorn in Putin’s side

Navalny is a former lawyer who rose to prominence more than a decade ago by lampooning the Russian elite and alleging corruption on a vast scale.

He describes himself as a political prisoner, and his supporters cast him as a Russian version of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela who will one day be freed from jail to lead the country.

Conversely, Russian authorities view him and his supporters as extremists with links to the US Central Intelligence Agency who are intent on trying to destabilise Russia. They have outlawed his movement, forcing many of his followers to flee abroad.

In 2020, Navalny survived an apparent attempt to poison him during a flight in Siberia with what Western laboratory tests determined was a nerve agent.

Navalny accused the Russian state of trying to kill him, something it denied.

He was treated for that poisoning in Germany but voluntarily returned to Russia in 2021, where he was arrested on arrival and jailed.

Yarmysh said medicine sent to Navalny’s prison by his mother was not collected by prison officials from the post office and was returned.

His supporters have had to battle with prison authorities every time he has fallen ill to ensure he received some kind of treatment, she said.

“Abusing Alexey’s health is a regular practice of [prison] colony number 6,” Yarmysh said. “All we can do right now [to help him] is to talk about Alexey everywhere.”

Source: News Agencies