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Lawyer Sees Navalny At Prison Hospital, Warns He Looks 'Bad'


Aleksei Navalny appears in court in Moscow on February 20.
Aleksei Navalny appears in court in Moscow on February 20.

A lawyer for jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who is in the third week of a hunger strike, says his client looks "bad," raising further concerns over the Kremlin critic's health after he was transferred to a correctional facility hospital amid intensifying pressure from the West.

Lawyer Aleksei Liptser met briefly with Navalny on April 19 and said that even though the situation was "only getting worse," the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner said he was determined to continue his hunger strike even though his health was failing.

"The lawyer got to see Navalny for just a few minutes, then he was kicked out with officials citing the end of the working day.... Civilian doctors are still not allowed to see him, and he is not stopping his hunger strike," the coordinator of the network of Navalny's teams across Russia, Leonid Volkov, wrote on Twitter.

Reuters quoted Liptser as saying that Navalny had again been denied a doctor of his choice.

Just before the weekend, Navalny's personal doctor and three other physicians, including a cardiologist, pleaded for access to the 44-year-old in a letter to the Federal Penitentiary Service, saying he could suffer cardiac arrest at "any minute."

Kira Yarmysh, Navalny's spokeswoman, warned over the weekend that the Kremlin critic -- who months earlier fell gravely ill after a poison attack with a chemical nerve agent -- could die within "days" if action wasn't taken soon.

Navalny's case has further isolated Moscow at a time when U.S. President Joe Biden's administration has announced tougher economic sanctions against the Kremlin and the Czech Republic, a member of NATO and the European Union, has expelled Russian spies, accusing Moscow of playing a role in a deadly 2014 explosion at an ammunition storage depot.

Russia's prison service said in a statement that a decision had been taken to transfer Navalny, to a nearby prison hospital and that he was in "satisfactory" condition and was being given "vitamin therapy" with his consent.

Volkov said Navalny was actually moved to the new location on April 18, "as usual, without them telling anyone."

Speaking just ahead of a meeting of foreign ministers from the EU's 27 members, the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Russian authorities are "responsible for the health situation of Mr Navalny" and should allow doctors to visit him at the hospital.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that what happens to the Kremlin foe in custody "is the responsibility of the Russian government" and the international community will hold the authorities accountable.

"In the interim, our objective is of course continuing to...push for his release and reiterate our view that he must be treated humanely," Psaki said.

Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said the Russian authorities "cannot escape the global scrutiny that their appalling treatment of Aleksei Navalny has invited."

“We address all of our supporters, national governments, and international bodies to join our call for Navalny’s immediate release, and urgent medical attention by independent doctors of his choice to save his life,” Struthers added.

The announcement of the move and the designation of his condition as "satisfactory" did little to allay the fears of Navalny's associates.

The assessment of his health, some noted, was the same as the one given before Navalny launched a hunger strike that has seen his weight drop sharply to 76 kilograms, 17 kilos less than when he entered the notorious Correctional Colony No. 2, about 100 kilometers from Moscow.

Others warned of the conditions at the facility where Navalny had been transferred.

"That hospital is located on the territory of the maximum security Correctional Colony No. 3.... That place is used to break certain inmates, and even those inmates who were dying [of illnesses] tried to avoid being transferred to that facility. There are no physicians or nurses there. I do not know how [Navalny] is going to receive treatment there," Dmitry Dyomushkin, an outspoken Russian nationalist who once served time in the Correctional Colony No. 2 told Current Time on April 19.

Some Russian media reports cited other former inmates in the past who backed up Dyomushkin's comments about Correctional Colony No.3.

"Aleksei was not transferred to a hospital -- he was transferred to another penal colony - to IK-3, to a prison where TB [tuberculosis] is treated! This is not at all a hospital where they can diagnose and prescribe treatment for his problems. We urgently demand to be allowed to hold a consultation by us, the doctors who have treated him," the team of Navalny's personal doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, said on Twitter on April 19.

Last week Vasilyeva was detained and then fined for showing up at the prison, where she asked to be allowed to examine Navalny.

Navalny was arrested in January on his arrival from Germany, where he was treated after being poisoned in Siberia in August 2020 with what was defined by European labs as a Novichok nerve agent. 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.

A close ally of Navalny's on April 19 rang the alarm about the opposition leader's health, saying there was "no hope" of good news.

"We don't know what happened to him over the weekend because the lawyers aren't allowed to visit him then. I hope we will get some news today but I'm very afraid to receive bad news," Lyubov Sobol told Ekho Moskvy radio station.

Sobol said Navalny was "under heavy psychological pressure and hard physical conditions in the penal colony," where he was placed in a group of inmates who cooperate with the prison administration and who keep him constantly under surveillance, regularly reporting to the administration about him."

On April 18, Navalny's allies called on people to stage massive protests across the country on April 21 before Navalny is harmed "irreparably."

Early on April 19, Vladimir Milov, a close associate of Navalny, announced he had fled the country to keep from getting arrested.

He said that his efforts were focused on gathering international support in order to press the Russian authorities to release Navalny.

With reporting by Reuters and Current Time

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