Alexei Navalny, the most prominent opponent of Russian president Vladimir Putin, is “seriously ill” in prison after contracting symptoms of a respiratory illness in prison.
Olga Mikhailova, a lawyer for Navalny, said on Tuesday that he was in “quite bad condition” after losing some feeling in both his legs from severe back and nerve pain, then developing a cough and a 38.1C temperature.
Navalny went on hunger strike last week to protest at being denied medical care for his injuries, which he said had made it difficult for him to walk. He accused officials at the IK-2 prison colony 60 miles east of Moscow of “torture” by refusing to let him see a specialist and depriving him of sleep.
“The man’s seriously ill,” Mikhailova said on Ekho Moskvy radio. “It’s completely outrageous that the IK-2 has left him in this state.”
Navalny claimed in a message his team posted on Monday that three of the 15 prisoners in his ward were being treated in hospital for tuberculosis. “But there’s a silver lining: they say that desperate diseases have desperate cures. If I do have TB, then maybe it’ll drive out my back pain and the numbness in my legs. That’d be nice,” he wrote.
Later on Monday, the pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia reported that Navalny had been moved to a sick ward with a fever and respiratory symptoms.
A group of Navalny-supporting doctors then protested outside the prison on Tuesday to demand that he be allowed to see a neurologist of his choosing. Police later detained Anastasia Vasileva, Navalny’s personal doctor and the head of his Doctors’ Alliance trade union, as well as three other supporters and journalists from CNN and the EU-funded Belarusian news channel Belsat.
Navalny, 44, was arrested at a Moscow airport in January immediately upon returning from Germany, where he had been recovering from a military nerve agent poisoning. A Moscow court promptly ordered him to spend two and a half years in prison for missing parole meetings from a 2014 suspended sentence — including several while he was in a coma after the poisoning.
Navalny has accused Russia of ordering his poisoning and says the fraud charges are the Kremlin’s revenge for his activism.
The back symptoms began while he was in a Moscow jail in February, then worsened after he was sent to IK-2.
The Kremlin denies any involvement in Navalny’s poisoning and says Putin has had no involvement in his prosecution or the terms of his confinement.
“This is the exclusive prerogative of the Federal Penitentiary Service,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday. Peskov, who refuses to mention Navalny by name, added that there “could be no special conditions for any of the prisoners”, but said that he would be treated “at the appropriate level” if he were ill.
Navalny was visited later on Tuesday by the heads of the Vladimir prison medical administration, who told him that he could not invite a professor from a Moscow clinic to treat him, his team wrote.
Last week, however, prison officials allowed Maria Butina, a correspondent for state media network RT who previously served time in the US for being a clandestine foreign agent, to visit Navalny. When he told her the prison was notorious for “torture”, she replied that it was better than hotels in the Siberian village where she grew up.