This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny say his health is “deteriorating” and believe his life “in danger” in prison after he complained about severe back pain and leg numbness.
They also said that Navalny’s current whereabouts are “unknown” and that his lawyers were not allowed to see him on March 24 despite having a scheduled meeting with him at the prison.
“The rapid deterioration of his health condition raises our extreme concerns,” Maria Pevchikh, head of investigations at Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, tweeted on March 24.
Navalny has been complaining about “severe back pains and numbness in his leg” since the end of last week, Pevchikh wrote, adding that the only medication he has received were “two ibuprofen pills.”
Earlier this month, Navalny confirmed for the first time that he had arrived at a prison colony in Pokrov in the Vladimir region, 85 kilometers east of Moscow, one of Russia’s most notorious penitentiary facilities with a very strict regime.
“We suppose that Navalny has possibly been transferred to the prison hospital, and the colony administration are trying to cover it up. We believe that Navalny’s life is in danger and demand immediate access to him for his lawyers,” she said in a separate tweet.
Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, said she doesn’t know “what’s wrong” with her client and that “he should be seen by a proper doctor,” according to Pevchikh.
Leonid Volkov, the coordinator of Navalny’s network of teams, said it was possible he had been moved to the prison hospital and that the facility’s administration was trying to hide that fact.
“Given all of the circumstances known to us, the sharp deterioration of his health can only cause extreme concern,” said Volkov in a posting on Telegram.
‘Friendly Concentration Camp’
Navalny described the prison, IK-2, as a “friendly concentration camp.” He said that he hasn’t seen “even a hint at violence” there but faced overwhelming controls that he compared to George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four.”
Navalny, whom prison authorities marked as a flight risk, said he’s subject to particularly close oversight that includes a guard waking him up every hour at night and filming him to report that he’s in place.
Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport in January immediately upon returning from Berlin, where he was recovering from what several Western labs determined was a poisoning attempt using a Novichok-type nerve agent that saw him fall ill on a flight in Siberia in August 2020.
Russia has denied involvement but Navalny has said the assassination attempt was ordered by President Vladimir Putin — an allegation rejected by the Kremlin.
A Moscow court in February ruled that, while in Germany, Navalny had violated the terms of parole from an older embezzlement case that is widely considered to be politically motivated.
His suspended 3 1/2 year sentence was converted into jail time, though the court reduced that amount to 2 1/2 years for time already served in detention.
Navalny’s incarceration set off a wave of national protests and a crackdown against his supporters.
Canada followed suit on March 24, imposing new sanctions on nine Russian officials over “gross and systematic violations of human rights” in the country.
The Foreign Ministry said the sanctions were part of “a concerted diplomatic effort to bring pressure on senior figures in Russia’s administration involved in the attempted murder of [Navalny], his subsequent prosecution, and the silencing of Russian citizens who protested his treatment with heavy-handed and often violent methods.”
Canada and its allies will continue to increase pressure on Moscow to release Nalvany and his supporters “who have been unlawfully detained,” Foreign Minister Marc Garneau in a statement.
“The principle of reciprocity will be observed with regard to Canada,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said after Ottawa’s announcement.
The new round of Canada’s sanctions target the director of Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB), Aleksandr Bortnikov; federal prisons administrator Aleksandr Kalashnikov; first deputy chief of staff Sergei Kiriyenko; Investigative Committee head Igor Krasnov; Aleksei Krivoruchko, deputy defense minister responsible for armaments; Pavel Popov, deputy defense minister responsible for research activities; Andrei Yarin, chief of the Kremlin’s domestic policy directorate; Viktor Zolotov, director of the National Guard; and Sergei Menyailo, Putin’s envoy to the Siberian Federal District.
Seven of them already faced U.S. sanctions.