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Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny in court in Moscow on February 16

Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny's health has rapidly deteriorated and he could suffer cardiac arrest "any minute," according to doctors demanding immediate access to the prominent Kremlin critic.

The plea came from Navalny's personal doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, and three other doctors, including a cardiologist, in a letter to Russia's Federal Prison Service officials that was posted to Vasilyeva's Twitter account on April 17.

Navalny, 44, announced a hunger strike at the end of last month in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to allow him to receive proper medical care for acute back and leg pain.

The opposition leader said on April 16 that prison authorities were threatening to put him in a straightjacket to force-feed him.

The doctors' statement said that blood tests showed that Navalny's potassium count had reached a "critical level."

"This means both impaired renal function and that serious heart rhythm problems can happen any minute," the letter said.

Navalny was arrested in January on his arrival from Germany where he was treated for poisoning in Siberia with what was defined by European labs as a nerve agent in August last year. He has accused President Vladimir Putin of ordering the poisoning, which Kremlin has denied.

A Moscow court sentenced the opposition leader in February to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges he says were politically motivated.

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny's spokeswoman, wrote on Facebook on April 17 that the situation 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.

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 on to 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."

With reporting by AFP
Vyacheslav Gimadi, a lawyer for Aleksei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, meets with the media after a court hearing to consider a complaint over investigators' refusal to open a case following Navalny's poisoning, in Moscow on March 22.

Amnesty International has sharply criticized a request by Russian prosecutors to have the Anti-Corruption Foundation of imprisoned opposition politician Aleksei Navalny banned as an “extremist” organization.

“Tens of thousands of peaceful activists and the staff of Aleksei Navalny’s organizations are in grave danger,” Natalia Zviagina, head of Amnesty’s Moscow office, said in an April 17 statement. “If their organizations are deemed ‘extremist’ they will all be at imminent risk of criminal prosecution.”

The Amnesty statement also decried Russia’s “long history of abusing ‘anti-extremism’ legislation and said that if the courts grant the prosecutors’ request on labeling Navalny’s organization “extremist,” “the result will likely be one of the most serious blows for the rights to freedom of expression and association in Russia’s post-Soviet history.”

On April 16, the Moscow Prosecutor’s Office asked the Moscow City Court to label as “extremist” three organizations tied to Navalny: the Anti-Corruption Foundation, the Citizens’ Rights Protection Foundation, and Navalny’s regional headquarters. Prosecutors said the organizations were “engaged in creating conditions for destabilizing the social and sociopolitical situation under the guise of their liberal slogans.”

Under Russian law, membership in or funding of an “extremist” organization is punishable by up to 10 years in prison.

The move is the latest in a series of assaults on Navalny since he suffered a nerve-agent poisoning attack in August 2020. He and his supporters blame that attack on Federal Security Service (FSB) operatives acting at the behest of authoritarian President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny spent weeks in Germany recuperating from the attack. When he returned to Russia in January, he was arrested and later sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison on charges he says were trumped up to hinder his political activity.

Navalny has been on a hunger strike in prison since March 31, demanding he be examined by his own doctor amid what his supporters have described as a “deliberate campaign” by prison officials to undermine his health.

On April 17, the French daily Le Monde and other leading European newspapers published an open letter signed by more than 70 actors, writers, directors, and other cultural figures demanding that Navalny be provided adequate medical treatment.

“As a Russian citizen, he is entitled to an examination and treatment by a doctor of his choice,” read the letter, which was signed by Nobel Prize laureates Herta Mueller, Louise Gluck, Orhan Pamuk, and Svetlana Alexievich, among others.

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