Russian opponent Navalny has lost 8 kg since arriving in prison camp

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Concern is growing among those close to Alexeï Navalny after the announcement of his hunger strike, the Russian opponent, detained in a penal colony, already suffering from health problems and having just survived poisoning.

• Read also: Russian opponent Navalny announces hunger strike in prison

The main critic of the Kremlin, the 44-year-old anti-corruption activist announced on Wednesday that he had decided to stop eating to protest his conditions of detention, accusing the prison administration of denying him access to a doctor and medicine and to “torture” him by depriving him of sleep.

This news is all the more worrying for those close to Mr. Navalny as he already suffers from severe back pain and has lost sensitivity in both legs.

“We are very worried about his health and that is why we are asking for immediate access to a doctor,” Rouslan Chaveddinov, a collaborator of the opponent, told AFP. “Navalny has always taken decisions like going on a hunger strike very seriously.”

According to a message posted on Facebook by his relatives, Mr. Navalny has lost eight kilograms since arriving at the camp in early March. Pounds lost even before the start of his hunger strike, due to the fact that the guards woke him “eight times a night”.

The silent Kremlin

Alexei Navalny’s hunger strike comes on top of his undiagnosed back problems, but above all comes after he barely survived a poisoning he blames the Kremlin less than a year ago.

After three weeks of coma, he had spent five months recovering in Germany. It was on his return in January that he was arrested and then sentenced to two and a half years in prison in an old case of fraud that he considers political.

“After poisoning, nobody knows how the body can react” to a refusal to eat, notes Mr. Chaveddinov, “it is very worrying”.

The prison administration for its part swept away concerns about the health of the opponent, assuring Wednesday that he was receiving “all necessary medical assistance” and that no one disturbed his sleep.

The Kremlin for its part said it had “no comment” to make.

The colony where Alexei Navalny is imprisoned, in Pokrov, 100 km east of Moscow, is considered one of the toughest in Russia. The opponent described it as a “concentration camp”.

He also claims to be threatened with being sent to a disciplinary cell for breaches of the rules, for example “getting out of bed 10 minutes” too early or for a “refusal to participate” in compulsory physical exercises.

“What is happening is fascism, state terror. It’s the return of the worst. It’s the same Gulag, where people are tortured and martyred, especially if they are politically active, ”Moscow city deputy Sergei Mitrokhine lost his temper on Ekho Moskvy radio on Wednesday.

The previous Sentsov

If the modalities of Alexey Navalny’s hunger strike are not known, it is a measure that has already been used by critics of Russian power.

A close ally of Mr. Navalny, Lioubov Sobol spent 32 days on a hunger strike, ingesting only liquids, in the summer of 2019 after his candidacy was refused in local elections. In 2015, Mr. Navalny’s right-hand man Leonid Volkov did the same for 12 days.

The most famous recent hunger striker in Russia remains Ukrainian director and activist Oleg Sentsov, who spent nearly five years in a Russian camp. For 145 days, he ate only nutritional supplements and injections of glucose.

He stopped it after being threatened with force-feeding, a drastic measure that by law can be done orally, rectally or by intubation.

Such treatment, denounced by human rights activists as a form of torture, is what could await Alexeï Navalny if he decided to go through with it.

The opponent “knows that the strike of the end is an extreme measure”, comments on Twitter one of his allies, the economist Sergei Guriev, but if he does “it is because he thinks he has nothing to to lose “.