Jailed Putin critic Alexei Navalny has spinal hernias, losing sensation in hands, lawyer says


A lawyer for imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who has complained of serious back and leg pain in custody, says prison doctors have determined his client is suffering from two spinal hernias.

Vadim Kobzev told the Interfax news agency on Wednesday that Navalny also has a spinal protrusion and is beginning to lose sensation in his hands.

Navalny went on a hunger strike last week to protest what he called poor medical care in his Russian prison. On Tuesday, the leader of the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors union was detained by police after trying to get into the prison to talk to doctors.

Navalny, 44, is Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest domestic opponent. He was arrested in January upon returning to Moscow 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. Still, labs in Germany and elsewhere in Europe confirmed that Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era Novichok nerve agent.

A Russian court ordered Navalny in February to serve 2½ years in prison for violating the terms of his probation, including when he was convalescing in Germany, from a 2014 embezzlement conviction. Navalny has rejected the conviction as fabricated, and the European Court of Human Rights found it “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”

Police officers guard an entrance of the prison colony IK-2, east of Moscow on April 6. Doctors from the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors union announced they were going to the prison on Tuesday to demand the opposition leader gets qualified medical help from independent doctors after he complained about pain in his leg and back. (Pavel Golovkin/The Associated Press)

Authorities transferred Navalny last month from a Moscow jail to the IK-2 penal colony in the Vladimir region, 85 kilometres east of the Russian capital. The facility in the town of Pokrov stands out among Russian penitentiaries for its especially strict inmate routines, which include standing at attention for hours.

Within weeks of being imprisoned, Navalny said he developed severe back and leg pains and was effectively deprived of sleep because a guard checks on him hourly at night. He went on a hunger strike on March 31, demanding access to proper medication and a visit from his doctor.

Concern about tuberculosis, COVID-19

Human rights group Amnesty International said Wednesday that Navalny is incarcerated in conditions that amount to torture and may slowly be killing him.

Russia’s state penitentiary service has said that Navalny is receiving all the medical help he needs.

Another Navalny lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, said a neurologist consulted by Navalny’s organization determined the treatment prescribed in the prison was ineffective.

Navalny sits in a Moscow court as his lawyer Olga Mikhailova, left, reads documents in this photo from July 24, 2019. Mikhailova provided an update this week on her client’s health problems. (Dmitry Serebryakov/The Associated Press)

In an Instagram post Monday, Navalny said three of the 15 people he is housed with have been diagnosed with tuberculosis, a contagious disease that spreads through the air. He said he had a strong cough and a fever with a temperature of 38.1 C.

On Monday, the state penitentiary service said Navalny had been in the prison’s sanitary unit after a checkup found him having “signs of a respiratory illness, including a high fever.”

Mikhailova said Wednesday that Navalny’s fever had lowered, but he is still coughing and is weak from the hunger strike. She said he has tested negative for COVID-19 twice. 

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