Person of the Week: Aleksei Navalny, opposition activist in a coma after suspected poisoning

Week-ending 21 August 2020

Photo: By Evgeny Feldman – via Wikipedia

On Thursday, 20 August 2020, The Guardian reported opposition leader Aleksei Navalny was in a coma and on a ventilator in a hospital intensive care unit after a suspected poisoning. His supporters believe the poisoning is related to his anti-Kremlin political activism and the upcoming regional elections in Siberia. Navalny was returning to Moscow by plane from Siberia when he fell ill, prompting the captain to make an emergency landing in Omsk, where he was taken to hospital. Navalny’s press secretary, Kira Yarmysh, said Navalny had begun sweating and then lost consciousness shortly after take-off. “I am sure this was deliberate poisoning,” she said, added that she suspected a cup of black tea he drank at an airport cafe was the source. Navalny’s personal doctor also said he had been poisoned.

On Friday, 21 August 2020, doctors treating Navalny refused to allow him to be taken out of the country for treatment, saying he is too sick to be moved, The Guardian reported. The decision was announced by doctors just an hour before a plane was due to arrive to evacuate Navalny to a hospital in Germany. “The ban on transporting Navalny is an attempt on his life.” The Moscow Times reported that local police had said a poison was found in the Navalny’s body “that is dangerous to others,”, citing a lose aide to Navalny.

On Thursday, 20 August 2020, Meduza reported that Aleksei Navalny had flown to Novosibirsk on 13 August to help organise his campaigning for the Novosibirsk and Tomsk city council elections next month in which Navalny and his supporters have endorsed several independent candidates: “The trip’s main purpose was to support the ‘Smart Vote’ system. These are key regions,” said a source in one of Navalny’s local offices, referring to the strategic voting initiative Navalny launched last year, designed to rally support for the registered candidates in races with the best chance of defeating United Russia’s picks. 

On Thursday, 20 August 2020, Amnesty International demanded that the Russian authorities fully investigate the circumstances of the unexpected and critical deterioration of the health of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny and allow him to immediately be diagnosed by and receive treatment from doctors that his family trusts. “The administration of the hospital must provide full access to information about his treatment to his family and doctors of his or their choice. There have already been reports that his chosen doctor was not allowed to see the test results and was not informed of the course of treatment. In light of assumptions about possible poisoning, this only adds to suspicions,” said Natalia Zvyagina, Director of Amnesty International’s Moscow office. “Given the grave allegations that have been suggested as the cause of Aleksei Navalny’s illness, there must be a prompt and independent investigation into the circumstances surrounding his hospitalization. If criminal intent is proven, those who ordered and perpetrated this crime must be brought to justice. What has happened to Aleksei Navalny is undeniably similar to incidents involving other hardline critics of the Russian authorities, including the politician Vladimir Kara-Murza Jr. and Pussy Riot punk band producer Pyotr Verzilov. Aleksei Navalny himself became seriously ill previously during his administrative arrest a year ago. None of these incidents were investigated.”

On Friday, 21 August 2020, Human Rights Watch reported that, according to media reports, on that evening, Russian doctors in Omsk gave permission for Navalny to be medevaced to Germany for treatment. This followed a time when Yulia Navalnaya, who had rushed to Omsk, had not been allowed to see him. News reports say that after some delay, doctors flown in from Germany have been allowed to see him. Rachel Denber, Human Rights Watch’s Deputy Director for Europe and Central Asia, wrote: “The authorities should immediately ensure that the doctors the family wants can treat Navalny and medevac him if they determine that is in his best interest. And to address the questions swirling about whether Navalny was poisoned, and if the authorities were involved, they should allow a prompt, effective, independent investigation, with public findings.” Human Rights Watch also said: Navalny, one of the most prominent critics of the Kremlin, leads a nationwide anti-corruption movement and has presidential ambitions. His YouTube videos – exposing alleged high-level, eye-popping corruption and lavish spending by political elites – draw millions of views. He’s been arrested multiple times. His brother was imprisoned for three years on dubious fraud charges, almost certainly retaliation against Navalny. He’s been physically attacked, nearly losing sight in an eye. The offices of his anti-corruption organization have been raided and fined, eventually closed.

Leave a Reply