On Tuesday, April 6, the medical workers’ union “Doctors’ Alliance” led a rally outside Alexey Navalny’s prison, demanding that he receive adequate medical care. Navalny, who has been on hunger strike for seven days now, has complained about his health deteriorating in prison and was recently moved to a sick ward due to “signs of a respiratory infection.” Several hours into the rally, police officers began arresting both demonstrators and journalists, including Doctors’ Alliance director Anastasia Vasilieva and CNN correspondent Matthew Chance. According to regional police officials, the detainees were “violating public order.”
On Tuesday, April 6, a group of Navalny’s associates and medical workers staged a rally outside of Pokrov’s Penal Colony No. 2 (IK-2), demanding that the authorities provide him with adequate medical care. This comes after Navalny’s repeated complaints about his deteriorating health in prison. The medical workers’ union “Alyans Vrachey” (Doctors’ Alliance), which is linked to the opposition politician, announced plans to hold the rally late last week. “We aren’t going to protest tomorrow. We’re going to save,” said Doctors’ Alliance director Anastasia Vasilieva, who is also Navalny’s primary physician.
A few hours into the rally, police officers began arresting demonstrators, as well as several journalists. According to Meduza’s correspondent, at least seven or eight people had been detained as of 3:15 p.m. local time. Among the detainees were Doctors’ Alliance director Anastasia Vasilieva, the host of the “Navalny’s Headquarters” YouTube channel Dmitry Nizovtsev, and CNN correspondent Matthew Chance. All of the detainees were taken to Pokrov’s Police Station No. 9, reported Open Media, citing the former head of Navalny’s Kemerovo headquarters, Ksenia Pakhomova, who was also detained at the rally.
Update. According to regional police officials, nine people were detained near the penal colony for “violating public order.” In total, there were 45 people gathered outside the penal colony, including 30 journalists and bloggers, the police reported.
Navalny was moved to the penal colony’s medical unit on Monday, April 5, due to “signs of a respiratory illness,” Izvestiya reported, citing the Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN). Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, told the independent television channel Dozhd that she found out about Navalny being moved to the sick ward from media reports. According to Mikhailova, IK-2’s medical unit is staffed by a paramedic, not a doctor. “Whether or not some doctor will be called there I don’t know, everything is in the hands of the FSIN,” she added.
Earlier in the day on Monday, Navalny reported that he had developed a fever and a cough. He also underscored that his prison unit has a high incidence of tuberculosis. This was conveyed in a social media post published on Navalny’s behalf, which also said that in recent days three inmates from his unit had been hospitalized with tuberculosis. Navalny himself had a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38.1 degrees Celsius) and a “bad cough,” the post said.
Navalny has lost 13 kilograms (nearly 29 pounds) while in the penal colony. He went on a hunger strike seven days ago. His associates have underscored that Navalny has always considered a hunger strike a “radical political gesture that can only be made when [you’re] ready to go all the way.” On Monday, Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova said that her client had lost 13 kilograms during his time in Penal Colony No. 2 (Navalny had lost eight kilograms, or about 17.6 pounds, even before he began his hunger strike).
Navalny plans to continue his hunger strike until he receives adequate medical treatment. Since the end of March, Navalny and his lawyers have been outspoken about the deteriorating state of his health. The opposition politician has been experiencing back pain and numbness in his legs, and has complained about only receiving painkillers as treatment. Navalny maintains that the prison authorities have denied his requests to see a specialist. In addition, he has complained about “torture by insomnia” — because Navalny has been deemed a “flight risk,” prison staff wake him up for checks every hour during the night.
Though a specialist has not yet been allowed to see Navalny, reporters from state-controlled media outlets were granted access to Penal Colony No. 2, including Rossiya Segodnya (RIA Novosti) executive director Kirill Vyshinsky and RT (Russia Today) correspondent Maria Butina. Both outlets published news reports emphasizing that the inmates in the penal colony live well, and claiming that Navalny is demanding special treatment. In addition, the pro-Kremlin outlet Life released a video from a surveillance camera in Penal Colony No. 2, which allegedly shows that Navalny “isn’t a sick sufferer for the democratic faith, but [rather] a brazen pretender, who has also managed to pick up the habits of criminals.”
Agnès Callamard, the secretary general of the human rights organization Amnesty International, has called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to grant Navalny access to adequate medical treatment. “There is a real prospect that Russia is subjecting him to a slow death. He must be granted immediate access to a medical doctor he trusts and he must be freed,” Callamard wrote on Twitter on April 5. Agnès Callamard took up the post of Amnesty International’s secretary general at the end of March, prior to that she was one of the UN’s special rapporteurs on the case of Navalny’s August 2020 poisoning.
Translated and updated by Eilish Hart