Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has lost significant weight in prison, his allies said, even before the Kremlin critic launched a hunger strike this week.
In an April 1 post on Navalny's Telegram channel, his team said Navalny weighed 93 kilograms when he arrived at prison last month and is now at 85 kilograms. The statement said he blames the weight loss primarily on sleep deprivation from being woken by guards eight times per night.
Navalny declared a hunger strike on March 31, saying prison officials are withholding medical care and interrupting his sleep. He has complained of acute pain in his back and some numbness in his legs.
One of President Vladimir Putin's fiercest critics, the anti-corruption campaigner was taken into custody at a Moscow airport in January after recovering abroad from a nerve-agent poisoning in Russia that Western countries and international rights groups have linked to the Russian state. He is now serving time in a notorious prison outside Moscow on a sentence widely seen as politically motivated.
Russia's prison authorities reject accusations of mistreating the 44-year-old.
"Correction facility officers strictly respect the right of all inmates to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep," Reuters quoted prison authorities as saying late on March 31. It said safeguards included visual checks at night.
"...Navalny is being provided with all necessary medical care in accordance with his current medical conditions," it said.
Doctors who are trusted by Navalny's close associates have been standing by, urging authorities to respond to appeals for Navalny's care.
"The doctor is still not allowed to see him. There is no diagnosis in the medical book, and there is no doctor's conclusion," said the post on Navalny's Telegram channel.
Meanwhile, the post said that instead of a doctor, a crew from the Kremlin-backed RT news channel came to the prison to film.
“Today, instead of a doctor, a wretched propagandist from the RT channel [Maria] Butina arrived, accompanied by video cameras. She yelled that this was the best and most comfortable prison,” the post stated.
Butina served 18-months in a U.S. prison after admitting to working as an unregistered foreign agent. Upon returning to Russia in 2019, she began working for RT.
"Navalny told her off in front of a line of prisoners for 15 minutes, calling her a parasite and servant of the thieves in power," the post said.
Navalny's imprisonment has caused a chorus of international criticism, with the United States and its allies demanding his release and vowing to continue to hold those responsible for his poisoning to account.
Navalny's incarceration after his return in mid-January despite sparked major protests around the country and a swift crackdown.
Navalny has said the assassination attempt by poisoning, which forced doctors to put him into a medically induced coma for several weeks, was ordered by Putin -- an allegation rejected by the Kremlin.
A Moscow court in February ruled that while in Germany after his medical evacuation, Navalny had violated the terms of 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.