A file photo shows Russian politician Alexei Navalny attending a court hearing in Moscow on February 20.—Reuters
A file photo shows Russian politician Alexei Navalny attending a court hearing in Moscow on February 20.—Reuters

MOSCOW: The health of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny is deteriorating as he keeps up his hunger strike in prison, with a new numbness in his hands, his lawyers said on Wednesday.

Last Wednesday President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, who is serving two and a half years on embezzlement charges, launched a hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment for severe back pain and numbness in his legs.

Members of Navalny’s defence team, who visited him in his penal colony in the town of Pokrov 100 kilometres east of Moscow on Wednesday, said he is still refusing food and was coughing.

“He looks bad, he’s not feeling well,” lawyer Olga Mikhailova said, adding Navalny now weighs “around 80” kilogrammes.

Navalny, who is six feet two inches tall, weighed 93kg when he arrived in his penal colony last month.

“No one is going to treat him,” Mikhailova added.

Navalny’s lawyers and allies are demanding that he be transferred to a “normal” hospital but Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has said that Navalny is not entitled to any special treatment.

Another member of the opposition politician’s team, Vadim Kobzev, said that 44-year-old Navalny was losing a kilogramme a day.

Taking to Twitter, Kobzev said Navalny felt pain when he walked and was now also feeling a numbness in his hands in addition to back pain and a loss of sensation in his legs.

“It’s clear that his illness is getting worse.”

‘Epic battle’

After his lawyers’ visit, Navalny released a new post on Instagram, saying prison officials were putting candy in his pockets and frying chicken to taunt him.

He said officials still refused to tell him about his diagnosis and were not allowing him to be treated by a doctor of his choice.

He said tens of thousands of people — both inside and outside of Russian prisons — are “literally dying without medical help” and that thought increased his resolve.

“They are not known, no one will defend them, no one will think about them, no one will challenge this deceitful and inhuman system on their behalf,” Navalny wrote.

“And I immediately win this epic battle in which my spirit is standing up to the prison chicken,” he quipped.

Earlier this week, Navalny said he had a cough and fever and that three members of his prison unit had been hospitalised with tuberculosis.

Navalny was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he spent months recovering from a poisoning attack with Novichok nerve agent he blames on the Kremlin.

He is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for breaching the parole terms of a suspended sentence on old fraud charges.

Rights campaigners say the Pokrov penal colony is known for its especially harsh conditions, and Navalny himself has called it a “concentration camp.”

Published in Dawn, April 8th, 2021

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