This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
The daughter of jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has issued a plea for Russian authorities to let her father see an independent doctor after a group of physicians and the Kremlin critic’s spokeswoman warned that he faces imminent death due to a hunger strike.
Navalny, 44, went on a hunger strike at the end of last month in protest of what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to allow him to receive proper medical care for acute back and leg pain.
Navalny’s health has rapidly deteriorated in recent days and he could suffer cardiac arrest “any minute,” according to his personal doctor and three other physicians, including a cardiologist, who pleaded for access to Navalny in a letter to Russia’s Federal Prison Service.
The doctors’ statement said that blood tests showed that Navalny’s potassium count had reached a “critical level,” meaning “both impaired renal function and that serious heart rhythm problems can happen any minute.”
The letter was posted on April 17 to the Twitter account of Navalny’s personal doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, who said the team of doctors expressed their readiness to organize negotiations and a consultation. Navalny, a lawyer, and his legal team, have been demanding an independent doctor examine him, a right they say is provided for by Russian law.
“Allow a doctor to see my dad,” Dasha Navalnaya, currently a student at Stanford University in California, wrote in a tweet in both English and Russian on April 17.
Navalny was arrested in January on his arrival from Germany where he was treated for a poisoning while in Siberia with what was defined by European labs as a nerve agent in August last year. He has accused Putin of ordering the poisoning, which the Kremlin has denied.
A Moscow court in February converted a 3 1/2-year suspended sentence on a charge that Navalny and his supporters call politically motivated to real jail time, saying he broke the terms of the original sentence by leaving Russia for Germany for the life-saving treatment he received. The court reduced the time Navalny must spend in prison to just over 2 1/2 years because of time already served in detention.
Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman, wrote on Facebook on April 17 that the situation surrounding Navalny’s health reminded her of the helplessness she felt after his poisoning.
“Now Aleksei is dying. In his condition, it is a matter of days. And over the weekend, lawyers just can’t get to him, and no one knows what will happen on Monday,” she wrote.
U.S. President Joe Biden on April 17 called the situation “totally, totally unfair and totally inappropriate,” while noting that the situation comes after the poison attack on Navalny last summer.
The New York Times also weighed in on Navalny’s situation in an editorial on April 17, saying the decision about whether to allow doctors to see him “clearly rests with President Vladimir Putin,” whom they urged to comply with the doctors’ requests.
“Mr. Putin should understand that letting Mr. Navalny now perish in a labor camp would solidly confirm Mr. Putin as a ‘killer,’ a characterization President Biden recently said he shares, and as a vengeful despot willing to go to any lengths against his critics,” the newspaper’s editorial said. “Mr. Putin has been around long enough to know how that would play abroad, and among Russians already showing fatigue with his increasingly authoritarian and open-ended rule.”
The editorial also noted that more than 70 prominent international writers, artists, and academics have signed a letter to Putin calling on him to ensure that Navalny receives the medical treatment to which he is entitled under Russian law.
The letter was published in British, French, German, and Italian newspapers. Among the prominent people who signed it are Nobel laureates in literature John Coetzee, Svetlana Aleksievich, Louise Glueck, Herta Mueller, and Orhan Pamuk; Pulitzer Prize-winner Art Spiegelman; actors Stephen Fry, Benedict Cumberbatch, and David Duchovny; and authors Tom Stoppard, J.K. Rowling, and Michael Cunningham.
Yarmysh wrote that she did not want mass protests expected to take place in the coming weeks to demand Navalny’s release to attract large crowds only because he had died, and called on supporters to sign an online petition indicating they will attend in advance.
Saying that Putin only reacts to street protests, Yarmysh wrote, “This rally is no longer Navalny’s chance for freedom, it is a condition for his life.”