Jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny has declared a hunger strike, saying he is being deprived of proper medical treatment as fear among his associates grows over his state of health just months after being in a coma following a poison attack.
Last week, the Kremlin critic, currently incarcerated in Correctional Colony No. 2, one of the toughest penitentiaries in Russia, said he had received nothing more from prison doctors than ibuprofen despite being in acute pain from leg and back ailments.
In an Instagram post on March 31, he said the severe pain had worsened and that he had lost some sensitivity in both legs.
"I have declared a hunger strike demanding that the law be upheld and a doctor of my choice be allowed to visit me," Navalny said in an Instagram post, which was published through his lawyers. "So I'm lying here, hungry, but still with two legs."
Navalny's health became an issue last week after his allies said they were worried that he was ailing and called on prison authorities to clarify his condition.
In addition, Navalny, 44, again accused prison guards of torturing him through sleep deprivation by waking him up to eight times a night to check on his status even though there is a live closed-circuit TV camera in his cell.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States and its allies and partners have continually called for Navalny’s release and will continue to seek to hold accountable those who are responsible for his detention and attempts on his life.
“We’ve been very clear that Aleksei Navalny is a political prisoner,” Price said at a briefing. “His detention is politically motivated.”
Navalny, President Vladimir Putin's most vocal critic, said that, despite suffering from severe back pains, “nothing” was being done by prison authorities to properly care for his condition.
Hundreds of Russian physicians have demanded authorities provide immediate medical assistance to Navalny.
Their demand came after the chairman of the Public Oversight Commission in the Vladimir Region, where the prison is located, some 100 kilometers from Moscow, said in a statement that a medical team met with Navalny last week "in order to learn about problems with his health and the provision of medical treatment."
"During the discussion, Navalny complained about pain in his leg and asked for assistance in getting injections to treat this pain," Vyacheslav Kulikov said in the statement issued on March 28.
He said Navalny was able to walk and did not voice any other complaints and his request for injections had been officially registered.
"We asked doctors to pay attention to this and, in case it is necessary, to carry out an additional medical checkup," Kulikov said in the statement.
A day later, the commission's deputy chairman, Vladimir Grigoryan, told the Dozhd television channel that Navalny was faking his illness.
Grigoryan was unable to explain why he thinks that Navalny is simulating the illness and stopped the interview when he was asked to explain his comments, abruptly telling the interviewer: "Goodbye, my dear."
Navalny was detained at a Moscow airport in January immediately upon returning from Berlin, where he had recovered from what several Western laboratories determined was a poisoning attempt using a Novichok-type nerve agent that saw him fall seriously ill on a flight in Siberia in August 2020.
Navalny has said the assassination attempt, which forced doctors to put him into a medically induced coma for several weeks, was ordered by Russian 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, which 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.
The European Union, the United States, and Canada have imposed a series of sanctions against Russia over the Navalny case.