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Jailed Russian Opposition Politician Aleksei Navalny Ends Hunger Strike

Aleksei Navalny seen in February 2021 during an appeal of his prison sentence in Moscow.
Aleksei Navalny seen in February 2021 during an appeal of his prison sentence in Moscow.

Jailed Russian opposition politician Aleksei Navalny announced on Instagram on April 23 that he is ending his 23-day-long hunger strike after receiving access to non-prison medical care.

The decision follows an April 20 consultation with independent doctors at a civilian hospital in Vladimir, the regional Russian town where he is being held in the IK-3 prison hospital. With that goal accomplished, Navalny’s personal physicians urged him on April 22 to end his hunger strike, which they believe had put his life at risk.

International leaders had warned that they would hold Russia accountable if the politician died in jail. Navalny was the target of a 2020 nerve-agent poisoning that he has attributed to Russia’s Federal Security Service.

In alarm at warnings from his personal physicians about Navalny’s reportedly deteriorating state of health, thousands of Russians took to the streets on April 21 to demand that the politician receive access to non-prison medical care and be freed from prison.

On Instagram, Navalny credited the outpouring of international and domestic support for allowing “much to be accomplished.”

“Two months ago, my requests about medical assistance were smirked at. They didn’t give me any medicine at all, and didn’t allow it to be passed on [to me],” the 44-year-old activist claimed. “A month ago, they laughed at me in the face at sentences like ‘Can I find out my diagnosis?’ and ‘Can I see my own medical records?’”

Now, he said, civilian doctors have examined him twice; the last time directly before the April 21 rallies for his right to non-prison medical care. He wrote that he has received the results of their laboratory analyses and their conclusions.

Navalny, however, did not state why he did not decide to end his strike after the initial consultation, ahead of the unauthorized April 21 demonstrations on his behalf. Some 1,926 people nationwide were detained during these events while protesting for his right to independent health care and freedom.

He wrote that after his April 20 examination, his physicians’ warning that “soon there won’t be anyone for us to treat” seemed “to deserve attention.”

The fact that several individuals, including members of the advocacy group Mothers of Beslan, had started hunger strikes in solidarity with him also influenced his decision and moved him to tears, he said.

“My God, I’m not even acquainted with these people and they’ll go to such a length for me.”

Navalny declared a hunger strike on March 31 in a bid to receive access to non-prison doctors for the treatment of pain in his back and limb numbness. Around 100 people in Russia staged solidarity hunger strikes with Navalny. International politicians and cultural figures, including Nobel laureates and celebrity Hollywood directors and actors, also spoke out in his support.

But even with his hunger strike over, Navalny’s protest carries on. He stated that he still demands access to a doctor who can explain to him why he is losing feeling in his arms and legs and how to treat that.

Russian officials insisted that Navalny had been in a “satisfactory” state of health when he was transferred to the IK-3 prison hospital on April 18 from the IK-2 penal colony in the nearby town of Pokrov. They claimed that he has received full access to adequate medical care since his February sentencing to 2 1/2 years in prison for allegedly violating the terms of his parole on a 2014 embezzlement charge.

“Don’t make up things that aren’t true,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova commented during an April 23 broadcast of RT, the state-run media company, in reference to Navalny’s treatment.

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