Russia: Navalny on hunger strike to protest prison treatment

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In this photo taken on Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021, Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny looks at photographers standing behind a glass of the cage in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow, Russia. Alexei Navalny says on Wednesday, March 31 he has started a prison hunger strike to protest officials' failure to provide proper treatment for his back and leg pains. He also protested the hourly checks a guard makes on him at night, saying they amount to sleep deprivation torture. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Wednesday he has started a hunger strike to protest authorities’ failure to provide proper treatment for his back and leg pains.

In a statement posted on Instagram, Navalny complained about prison officials’ refusal to give him the right medicines and to allow his doctor to visit him behind bars.

He also protested the hourly checks a guard makes on him at night, saying they amount to sleep deprivation torture.

The 44-year-old Navalny, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken domestic opponent, was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin. Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.

Navalny’s poisoning and conviction have further strained Russia’s ties with the United States and the European Union, which sank to post-Cold War lows after Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea, its meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, hacking attacks and other actions.

His arrest fueled a series of protests that drew tens of thousands across Russia. Authorities detained about 11,000 people, many of whom were fined or given jail terms of up to two weeks.

Navalny said the August poisoning made him wonder about the cause of his current ailments. He said he had no choice but to start a hunger strike because his physical condition has worsened, with back pains having spread to his right leg and numbness in his left leg.

“What else could I do?” he wrote. “I have declared a hunger strike demanding that they allow a visit by an invited doctor in compliance with the law. So I'm lying here, hungry, but still with two legs.”