By: Lane Johansen
Alexei Navalny announced on April 23rd that he was ending his 24-day hunger strike after he was permitted to see trusted independent doctors.
The jailed Putin critic has been held in Penal Colony 2, one of Russia’s most infamous labor colonies, since early February. Navalny was poisoned by the Russian security service in late August 2020, then arrested in January upon his return to Moscow after spending five months recovering in Berlin.
Throughout February and March, 44-year-old Navalny complained of severe back pain and numbness in his right leg, likely a result of a pinched nerve. He reported to his lawyers that, despite daily requests, he was denied access to a doctor of his choice and proper medicine.
In response to these conditions, Navalny wrote a letter to the head of Penal Colony 2 on March 31 announcing a hunger strike demanding that the prison allow him to see an independent doctor. Navalny’s legal team shared images of these letters on Instagram, along with a caption that described how guards are torturing the opposition leader through sleep deprivation by waking him up 8 times a night. The team also said that Navalny had lost 8kg (18 pounds) in prison even before going on a hunger strike.
Members of the independent Alliance of Doctors union gathered outside of the penal colony on April 6th demanding that Navalny be granted access to the doctor of his choice and the necessary medication. Russian police arrested nine of these physicians, including Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva, the head of the Alliance of Doctors and one of Navalny’s doctors.
The following week Navalny’s allies tweeted via his account that he had lost another 7 kg (15 pounds), meaning Navalny had lost a total of 33 pounds since arriving at the prison colony. They also reported that the prison administration was threatening to force-feed Navalny.
Tens of thousands of protestors demanding the release of Navalny marched in demonstrations across Russia on April 21. At least 1,700 protestors were arrested that day, with about half the detentions made in St. Petersburg, where the BBC reported that police used electric batons and tasers.
Two days later, Navalny’s legal team announced via his Instagram account that Navalny was ending his hunger strike. They noted that he had finally been granted access to independent doctors, who urged Navalny to end his hunger strike, warning “if it continues even a little longer, we will simply no longer have a patient to treat.” His doctors continue to raise concerns about heart problems or renal failure due to dangerously high levels of potassium in his blood.