Russian prison officials prevented outside doctors from examining jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny after he was moved to a sick ward with a severe cough and temperature amid mounting concern over his health.
Anastasia Vasilyeva, Navalny’s doctor and the head of the Alliance of Doctors trade union, attempted to see Navalny on April 6 but said prison officials refused to meet with her or allow entry into the prison.
Police later detained Vasilyeva and at least nine other supporters gathered outside the prison. Among those detained were three journalists, including a CNN correspondent. The journalists and Vasilyeva were later released. The Alliance of Doctors says it will continue to hold protests outside the prison until Navalny can be seen by independent doctors.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critic is currently incarcerated in what is known as one of Russia’s toughest penitentiaries, located about 100 kilometers east of Moscow.
Navalny, 44, said in an Instagram post published by his allies a day earlier that he had a “severe cough” and fever of 38.1 degrees Celsius, after a third prisoner in his crowded quarters had been sent to the hospital with suspected tuberculosis.
Navalny has been on hunger strike for nearly a week to protest what he says are deliberate attempts to deprive him of sleep and the failure of authorities to provide proper medical treatment for his back and leg pains. His lawyers say that since entering prison last month Navalny has lost a total of 13 kilograms, including 5 kilograms over the past week.
On April 5, Agnes Callamard, the secretary-general of Amnesty International, said she had written to Putin over Navalny’s “arbitrary arrest and deteriorating health condition.”
“There is a real prospect that Russia is subjecting him to a slow death,” the former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killing said on Twitter.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Navalny would receive the necessary medical care but no preferential treatment.
“Of course, there can be no talk about special conditions for one of the convicted persons,” Peskov said during a conference call with reporters. “There are certain rules for inmates who get sick. If the illness truly takes place, any relevant treatment will be provided.”
The pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia previously cited the local branch of Russia's FSIN (Federal Penitentiary Service) in reporting that Navalny had been transferred to the colony infirmary and tested for the coronavirus. There were no immediate details about the coronavirus test results.
Navalny’s health condition is potentially precarious because he spent months last year recovering in Berlin from a military-grade nerve agent poisoning while traveling in Siberia. Navalny has accused Putin of ordering security agents to assassinate him with the poison, something the Kremlin denies.
Navalny was arrested at a Moscow airport in January upon his return from Germany on charges of violating his parole, sparking large-scale protests.
A Moscow court in February found him guilty of violating the terms of his 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.