(The Guardian) Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition politician, has been grappling with severe stomach pain in jail that could be the result of slow-acting poison, a close ally said on Friday.
Ruslan Shaveddinov said an ambulance was called last week to the maximum security IK-6 penal colony at Melekhovo, about 155 miles (250km) east of Moscow, where he is being held.
“His situation is critical, we are all very concerned,” Shaveddinov told the Guardian in a phone interview.
“We understand that the situation must have been very bad if an ambulance was called,” he said, adding that prison authorities refused to have Navalny admitted to hospital.
There had been no update on Navalny’s health condition since the ambulance arrived, Shaveddinov said, because “the prison authorities are doing everything possible to isolate him”.
Navalny communicates with the outside world through his lawyers.
The 46-year-old is serving sentences totalling 11-and-a-half years on charges including fraud and contempt of court, which human rights groups say were made up to silence him.
Worries over Navalny’s health have been rising in recent months and have led to a rare petition earlier this year from a group of Russian lawmakers and doctors who have used their full names to demand that he receive better medical care, despite the risk to them of being prosecuted for voicing dissent.
Shaveddinov said his team now believed Navalny was being slowly poisoned. “Our theory is that they are gradually killing him, using slow-acting poison which is applied through food,” he said.
“It might sound like paranoia, but after the novichok poisoning, it seems completely plausible. He lost 8kg in two weeks, this hasn’t happened before and the doctors are not telling him why he is in so much pain,” Shaveddinov said.
Navalny was poisoned with novichok, a Soviet-made nerve agent, on a trip to Siberia in 2020. He received treatment in Berlin and has accused Vladimir Putin of being behind the attack.
When asked about claims that Navalny might be being slowly poisoned, Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said the Kremlin was not following the state of his health and that it was a matter for the federal penitentiary service.
Shaveddinov said prison authorities were trying to “break” Navalny by continuously placing him in a shtrafnoy izolyator (shizo), or punishment cell, for minor infringements of prison rules or without giving any explanation at all.
“Since August, Navalny has spent most of his time in a punishment cell,” Shaveddinov said.
“You cannot sleep properly in shizo, there is no access to prison food shop and it is hard to write and read letters because of the poor lighting,” he added.
Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s director for eastern Europe and central, said: “Russian prison authorities are using the cruel methods they have been refining for years to try and break the spirit of Aleksei Navalny by making his existence in the penal colony unbearable, humiliating and dehumanising.”
Allies maintain a Twitter and Instagram feed featuring Navalny’s communication through his lawyers. Navalny’s last social media post, published on Thursday, called on the authorities of Georgia to release the former president Mikheil Saakashvili from prison for medical treatment.