Person of the Week: Aleksei Navalny ends hunger strike as health deteriorates; 1,700 arrested as many thousands protest against his imprisonment.

Week-ending 23 April 2021

This week Aleksei Navalny’s health continued to deteriorate as independent doctors warned of a potential rapid further deterioration. He was transferred to a medical ward in another prison, but was still denied access to a doctor of his own choosing. On 21 April thousands of people in cities across Russia protested against the imprisonment and treatment of Aleksei Navalny. Police arrested at least 1,700 peaceful protesters and 10 journalists, using excessive force, including tasers. On 23 April Aleksei Navalny announced he was ending his hunger strike. In a message on Instagram, Navalny said: “Thanks to the huge support of good people across the country and around the world, we have made huge progress,”


The Guardian, 18 April 2021: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny risks cardiac arrest at “any minute” as his health has rapidly deteriorated, doctors warned Saturday, urging immediate access to Russia’s most famous prisoner. On 31 March, Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent went on hunger strike to demand proper medical treatment for back pain and numbness in his legs and hands. On Saturday, Joe Biden added his voice to a growing international chorus of protest at the treatment of the activist, describing his situation as “totally unfair”. Navalny, 44, was imprisoned in February and is serving two-and-a-half years on old embezzlement charges in a penal colony in the town of Pokrov about 100km (60 miles) east of Moscow. Navalny’s personal doctor Anastasia Vasilyeva and three more doctors, including cardiologist Yaroslav Ashikhmin, have asked prison officials to grant them immediate access.

RFE/RL, 18 April 2021: Washington has threatened “consequences” if hunger-striking jailed opposition leader Aleksei Navalny dies behind prison bars as his allies called for massive protests to pressure Russian officials to relent and allow the Kremlin critic to see an independent doctor after a group of physicians warned over his deteriorating health. Navalny, 44, went on a hunger strike at the end of last month in protest of what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to allow him to receive proper medical care for acute back and leg pain, just months after he recovered from a poison attack that nearly took his life. The health of President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic has rapidly deteriorated in recent days and he could suffer cardiac arrest at “any minute,” according to his personal doctor and three other physicians, including a cardiologist, who pleaded for access to Navalny in a letter to Russia’s Federal Prison Service.

The Guardian, 18 April 2021: Allies of Alexei Navalny have called on his supporters to stage mass protests on Wednesday in towns and cities all across Russia, amid a dire warning that the jailed Kremlin critic and opposition leader is now dangerously ill and could die “at any minute”. Navalny’s team said the situation had got so desperate that there was no time to delay. They had previously said street protests would resume once they reached 500,000 signatures in support – with the current tally about 50,000 short. In a video posted on Navalny’s YouTube channel his deputies Leonid Volkov and Ivan Zhdanov said Navalny’s health had deteriorated so dramatically that a mass public display was the only way to save him. Volkov urged citizens to gather at 7pm on Wednesday in squares across the country.

The Moscow Times: U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan warned Sunday that Russia will face “consequences” if hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny dies. Jailed opposition leader Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent opponent, was arrested in January upon returning to Russia after recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack he says was orchestrated by Moscow.

Amnesty International, 19 April 2021: Responding to reports that Aleksei Navalny has been transferred from the penal colony where he is unlawfully imprisoned to a medical ward at another prison, Marie Struthers, Amnesty International’s Director for Eastern Europe and Central Asia, said: “Aleksei Navalny’s health has deteriorated rapidly during his time in detention. He is now on hunger strike as the Russian authorities have been denying him an examination by independent doctors of his choice. The transfer of Navalny to another penal colony and the latest official statements appear to suggest that the authorities intend to start force-feeding him as a way to break his hunger strike and further punish him.”

The Guardian: Alexei Navalny has been transferred to a prison hospital as concerns have grown among supporters that the Russian opposition leader is dangerously ill and could die “at any minute”. Navalny’s transfer came after his doctors warned at the weekend that the Kremlin critic, who has been on hunger strike for nearly three weeks, was in danger of a heart attack or kidney failure. In a statement on Monday, Russia’s prisons service said a doctors’ committee had decided to transfer Navalny to an infirmary in another prison in the Vladimir region that “specialises in dynamic monitoring of similar patients”. “Currently Navalny’s health is evaluated as satisfactory, he is being examined daily by a doctor. With his agreement he has been prescribed vitamin therapy,” it said. His doctors and other representatives do not know what regime has been prescribed and whether he freely consented to it.

RFE/RL, 19 April 2021: A lawyer for jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny, who is in the third week of a hunger strike, says his client looks “bad,” raising further concerns over the Kremlin critic’s health after he was transferred to a correctional facility hospital amid intensifying pressure from the West. Lawyer Aleksei Liptser met briefly with Navalny on April 19 and said that even though the situation was “only getting worse,” the 44-year-old anti-corruption campaigner said he was determined to continue his hunger strike even though his health was failing. “The lawyer got to see Navalny for just a few minutes, then he was kicked out with officials citing the end of the working day…. Civilian doctors are still not allowed to see him, and he is not stopping his hunger strike,” the coordinator of the network of Navalny’s teams across Russia, Leonid Volkov, wrote on Twitter. Reuters quoted Lipster as saying that Navalny had again been denied a doctor of his choice.

The Moscow Times, 19 April 2021: Parents of victims of the deadly Beslan school siege have started a hunger strike in solidarity with jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny amid increasing concern among supporters that his life is in danger, the independent Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported Monday.  Ella Kesaeyva, who co-chairs Russia’s Voice of Beslan grassroots organization, likened Navalny’s plight to the September 2004 hostage-taking that ended with more than 330 killed adults and children. Navalny’s doctors warned that he could die at “any minute” nearly three weeks into his hunger strike to demand outside medical treatment.

RFE/RL, 19 April 2021: The former coordinator of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny’s team in Russia’s second-largest city, St. Petersburg, has been detained two days before announced rallies to demand the Kremlin critic’s release from prison amid reports his health is rapidly deteriorating. Denis Mikhailov wrote on Telegram that he was detained early on April 19 for taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration on January 31 protesting Navalny’s arrest. If found guilty, Mikhailov could face up to 15 days in jail. The current leader of Navalny’s team in the city, Irina Fatyanova, was sentenced to 10 days in jail on the same charge last week.

Human Rights Watch, 19 April 2021: [Kenneth Roth] Last summer, Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny narrowly survived an assassination attempt, widely believed to have been organized by Russia’s security services, through a Novichok nerve-agent poisoning. Now, without concerted action, he may die from medical neglect in a Russian penal colony where the authorities locked him up following a mockery of a trial. The botched nerve-agent attack, since exposed, was supposed to have been accomplished with deniability. If Navlany now dies in prison, the blame will lie unequivocally with the Kremlin.

The Moscow Times, 20 April 2021: Alexei Navalny’s doctors were again denied access Tuesday to the jailed Kremlin critic, as lawyers for the hunger-striking opposition figure said he was “very weak” and demanded he be transferred to a civilian hospital. A team of medics has been trying to see the 44-year-old since early this month, after President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken opponent began refusing food on March 31 to demand proper medical treatment for a litany of ailments.

The Guardian, 20 April 2021: The Kremlin is preparing the most sweeping crackdown on Alexei Navalny’s followers since his emergence as an opposition leader in 2011, threatening to liquidate his entire political organisation as he fights for his life in a Russian prison. Using secret evidence, a Moscow court next week is set to declare Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his regional political headquarters as extremist organisations, labels previously applied to Al-Qaida and the Jehovah’s Witnesses, exposing his staff, supporters, and financiers to stiff fines and even long jail terms. Navalny allies, who are gearing up for a last-ditch protest on Wednesday to call for the ailing dissident’s freedom, say that they are preparing for the worst.

RFE/RL, 20 April 2021: The United States has again urged Russia to allow independent doctors to see Aleksei Navalny as the jailed Russian opposition politician ends the third week of a hunger strike amid concerns that his health is failing badly. “We call on them to allow for access to necessary and independent medical care immediately,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a briefing on April 20, after a team of doctors seeking to examine Navalny was again turned away from the prison where he is being treated at an infirmary. Price added that Russian authorities were responsible for his deteriorating health and said the United States is “certainly looking and will not hesitate to use additional policy tools, should that be in our interest and in the interest of human rights in Russia, in the context of Mr. Navalny.”

RFE/RL, 20 April 2021: Allies of ailing, imprisoned Kremlin critic Aleksei Navalny have not held back in delineating the stakes of their latest standoff with the Russian state. A wave of protests planned for April 21, they say, represents the “final battle between good and neutrality.” Members of Navalny’s embattled opposition movement, many of whom have fled Russia under the threat of incarceration, had planned not to announce new anti-government rallies until 500,000 people had registered online to take part. Strength in numbers, they said in viral clips posted online, was the only sure way to protect participants from police beatings and arrest. But on April 18, as the online tally passed 430,000 and Navalny’s doctors warned he may have only days to live as he continues his hunger strike in a prison outside Moscow, his team shifted gear and named April 21 as the date for nationwide demonstrations they hope can force concessions from President Vladimir Putin’s government. “Each of us, whether we like it or not, faces a choice,” Navalny’s team said in a video announcing the protests. “If we are silent now, Russia will be plunged into total darkness. Peaceful political activism in Russia will become impossible.”

The Guardian, 20 April 2021: [Maria Pevchikh] Have you ever watched a person being killed? I will answer for you. You have. You are watching it right now, not in some sick social media experiment, but as Vladimir Putin and his corrupt regime slowly but steadily murder a prisoner. It isn’t the first time they have done that, but this time, their intended victim is Alexei Navalny, the leader of the Russian opposition, who also happens to be my boss. Navalny has been on hunger strike for 20 days now. He is demanding medical attention from an independent civilian doctor. A basic request, but not when Putin views you as his number one problem. No food, no supplements, just water. His health is deteriorating quicker than world leaders can express concern, as he loses at least 2lbs a day. We got his blood test results last week. I couldn’t read a word of the scribbled note on a scrap of paper. But when we showed it to the doctors, there was that long doctors’ pause everybody knows, followed by their unanimous agreement: “He could die any minute.” He needs urgent treatment in an ICU, starting yesterday.

OHCHR, 21 April 2021: UN human rights experts today expressed alarm at the deteriorating health situation of detained Russian Government critic Alexei Navalny, and called for his urgent medical evacuation from Russia. “We believe Mr. Navalny’s life is in serious danger,” said the independent experts appointed by the Human Rights Council. “He has been incarcerated under harsh conditions in a high security penal colony and denied access to adequate medical care. Despite having recently been transferred to a hospital, doctors of his own choosing have not been allowed to visit him. We are deeply troubled that Mr. Navalny is being kept in conditions that could amount to torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in a facility that reportedly does not meet international standards. Under international human rights law, when detaining a person, irrespective of the reason for the detention, the State bears full responsibility to care for his life and bodily integrity. Due to this heightened duty of care, the Government of the Russian Federation must take all necessary measures to protect Mr. Navalny’s physical and mental health and well-being. We are extremely concerned that the current danger to Mr Navalny’s life, his most recent incarceration and the past attacks on him, including an attempt against his life last August with the nerve agent Novichok, which the Russian authorities have yet to effectively investigate, are all part of a deliberate pattern of retaliation against him for his criticism of the Russian Government and a gross violation of his human rights.”

The Moscow Times, 21 April 2021: Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s team have called for protests across the country on the day President Vladimir Putin gives his annual address to the nation.  Putin’s most vociferous critic has been on hunger strike for three weeks, demanding to see his own doctors for a host of ailments. They have said he “could die any minute” from cardiac arrest. Navalny was jailed in January immediately after his return to Russia from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a near-fatal nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin. He was sentenced to two and a half years for violating parole on 2014 fraud charges that he calls politically motivated. U.S. President Joe Biden, who imposed a new round of anti-Russian sanctions last week, said on Saturday that Navalny’s plight was “totally, totally unfair, totally inappropriate.” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that the bloc holds Russia “responsible” for Navalny’s health. Wednesday’s protests are set to take place in nearly 200 cities and towns nationwide.

RFE/RL, 21 April 2021: Hundreds of Russians have begun protests in the country’s far eastern regions demanding the release of Aleksei Navalny as police in Moscow and other cities rounded up allies of the jailed opposition leader as rallies rolled across the country. In Moscow, Lyubov Sobol, one of the faces of Navalny’s popular YouTube channel, and Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, were both detained in Moscow on April 21, according to their lawyers. Meanwhile, Vladimir Ryzhkov, the former deputy speaker of Russian parliament’s lower chamber, the State Duma, told the TASS news agency that police had detained him on suspicion of violating the law on holding public events and mass gatherings. European Council President Charles Michel called the arrest of Navalny’s closest allies ahead of the protests “deplorable.” “The detention of supporters of Navalny in advance of planned protests in Russia today are deplorable,” Michel, who chairs EU summits, said on Twitter. “Authorities must respect the right to assembly,”

The Guardian, 21 April 2021: Thousands of Russians have rallied in cities across the country in a last-ditch effort to secure the freedom of the jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. The demonstrations have shown the determination of Navalny’s core supporters, who called for “freedom for political prisoners!” at tense standoffs opposite riot police in helmets and body armour, who have vowed to break up the unsanctioned demonstrations. But early turnout in cities in the far east of the country and Siberia suggested the protests would not be larger than those of past months, as the Kremlin prepares to deliver a potentially lethal blow to Navalny’s political organisation nationwide by declaring it extremist. On Wednesday morning Russian police arrested some of Navalny’s key allies and closed central squares in Moscow – where a rally was due to start at 7pm (1700 BST) – and other cities.

Amnesty International, 22 April 2021: Russian authorities unleashed a crackdown on peaceful protesters demanding the release of Aleksei Navalny, arresting at least 1,700 and using excessive force, including tasers, at demonstrations around the country. Amnesty International calls for the immediate release of all those who have been detained for exercising their rights to freedom of expression and assembly, and for the immediate release of Aleksei Navalny who is being arbitrarily detained and denied access to independent healthcare. “On Wednesday, in cities around Russia, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets calling for an end to the arbitrary imprisonment of Aleksei Navalny. In many cities, as usual, the Russian authorities responded by arresting protesters en masse, often using excessive force. If Moscow was spared from police violence and almost no one there detained this time, in Saint Petersburg police used tasers indiscriminately and in several instances beat detained protesters”, said Natalia Zviagina, Amnesty International’s Moscow Office Director.

Human Rights Watch, 22 April 2021: Russian police detained more than 1,600 people countrywide who were taking part in protests on April 21, 2021, against the treatment of the jailed and critically ill opposition figure Alexey Navalny, Human Rights Watch said today. Police also rounded up dozens of opposition activists and raided opposition offices in advance of the protests, but there were far fewer reports of police brutality compared with recent protests in Russia. The protests in some regions took place during President Vladimir Putin’s state of the nation address to parliament and also concerned corruption, recent steps to label groups associated with Navalny “extremist,” and fears that armed conflicts involving Russia may escalate. “There was less police violence and brutality on April 21 compared with the January and February pro-Navalny protests, but the authorities’ continued clampdown on freedom of assembly is wholly unjustified,” said Damelya Aitkhozhina, Russia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The authorities are quick to allege that without police interference so-called “unauthorized” gatherings become violent, but the April 21 protests showed how baseless that allegation is.” Local experts monitoring freedom of assembly reported that more than 1,600 people were arrested in over 60 cities and towns. They included the first arrests in Magadan, in eastern Siberia, in recent years for peacefully exercising the right to freedom of assembly, media reported. Human Rights Watch researchers monitored the protests online and observed that the protests were overwhelmingly peaceful.

CPJ, 22 April 2021: Russian authorities should stop harassing journalists and allow members of the press to cover political demonstrations without fear, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Yesterday, police detained at least 10 journalists and harassed several others in relation to their coverage of unauthorized protests in support of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, which took place in dozens of cities throughout the country, according to news reports and CPJ interviews. At least 1,000 people were arrested nationwide in relation to those protests, according to news reports. “Russian authorities should allow journalists to cover political protests freely and without fear that they will be detained, harassed, and intimidated by police,” said Gulnoza Said, CPJ’s Europe and Central Asia program coordinator, in New York. “Russian law enforcement should ensure that journalists can do their jobs safely, and not resort to detention and harassment to interfere with coverage of events of national interest.”

RFE/RL, 22 April 2021: Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Aleksei Navalny has expressed “pride and hope” after nationwide demonstrations calling for his release amid reports his health is deteriorating. In a post to Instagram on April 22, Navalny called the thousands of Russians who took to the streets the previous day “the salvation of Russia.” Russian police detained more than 1,700 people during the rallies, including at least 10 journalists, in what Amnesty International described as being part of “shocking crackdown on basic freedoms.” Navalny, 44, has been in custody since January. He has been on hunger strike since March 31 to demand that doctors treat him for severe pain in his back and legs.

The Moscow Times, 22 April 2021: Alexei Navalny’s personal doctors on Thursday urged him to “immediately” call off his hunger strike as the jailed Kremlin critic said he was full of “pride and hope” after nationwide protests. Thousands of Russians took to the streets in dozens of cities across the country on Wednesday evening, after the West warned the Kremlin that it would face “consequences” in the event of Navalny’s death. President Vladimir Putin’s best-known critic barely survived a poisoning with the Novichok nerve agent in August, and his health has been failing since he declared a hunger strike on March 31 to demand proper medical care for a range of ailments, including back pain and numbness in his limbs. On Thursday, his private doctors —who have been unable to examine their patient in his prison colony — said they were asking Navalny to “immediately halt the hunger strike to preserve your life and health.”

The Moscow Times, 22 April 2021: Russia will deport more than 100 foreign nationals for attending recent rallies in support of jailed and hunger-striking Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, a senior Moscow migration official said Thursday. Tens of thousands took to the streets across 11 Russian time zones Wednesday to demand Navalny’s release and treatment by his own doctors as he entered his fourth week of hunger strike. Independent monitors reported nearly 2,000 detentions with riot police reportedly using aggressive tactics including tasers. “The 122 foreign citizens who participated in the unauthorized protests in Moscow will not be allowed entry for 40 years,” Dmitry Sergiyenko, the chief migration officer at the Russian Interior Ministry’s Moscow branch, was quoted as saying by Interfax. Sergiyenko did not disclose which countries the protesters will be deported back to.

The Moscow Times, 22 April 2021: The Kremlin on Thursday downplayed opposition protests in support of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny that saw nearly 1,800 people detained across Russia. Thousands of people took to the streets Wednesday to demand freedom and proper medical attention for Navalny, who has been on a hunger strike for three weeks in a penal colony outside Moscow. The opposition staged unauthorized demonstrations in dozens of Russian cities, with the largest rallies in Moscow. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Thursday that he saw “no reason” to comment on the protests.  “I am not aware that anywhere the rallies were held in a legal manner,” Peskov said. 

The Guardian, 22 April 2021: A series of senior European MPs have been approached in recent days by individuals who appear to be using deepfake filters to imitate Russian opposition figures during video calls. Those tricked include Rihards Kols, who chairs the foreign affairs committee of Latvia’s parliament, as well as MPs from Estonia and Lithuania. Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the UK foreign affairs select committee, has also said he was targeted. “Putin’s Kremlin is so weak and frightened of the strength of @navalny they’re conducting fake meetings to discredit the Navalny team,” Tugendhat posted in a tweet, referring to the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. “They got through to me today. They won’t broadcast the bits where I call Putin a murderer and thief, so I’ll put it here.”

The Guardian, 23 April 2021: Alexei Navalny has said he is ending his hunger strike after getting medical attention and being warned by his doctors that continuing it would be life-threatening. In an Instagram post on Friday afternoon, the 24th day of his hunger strike, the imprisoned Russian opposition leader said he would continue to demand a visit from his doctor to address a loss of sensation in his legs and arms – his main demand when launching his hunger strike. But he said he would stop refusing food after getting examined by non-prison doctors. He also acknowledged the mass pro-Navalny protests across Russia on Wednesday. “Thanks to the huge support of good people across the country and around the world, we have made huge progress,” Navalny said in his message. Another reason he was ending the hunger strike he began on 31 March was that some of his supporters were refusing to eat in a show of solidarity with him, Navalny said.

Amnesty International, 23 April 2021: On Saturday, 23 January 2021, protest rallies against the arbitrary arrest and unfounded, politically motivated prosecution of Aleksei Navalny, a prominent anti-corruption activist and Vladimir Putin’s critic, erupted across Russia and continued for 10 days. Authorities described the protests as “illegal”, citing the country’s unduly restrictive legislation on assemblies, and responded by prosecuting individuals they perceived responsible for encouraging the protests. The Investigative Committee arrested 12 prominent activists in Moscow and Nizhny Novgorod. The Committee claimed the activists had violated COVID-19 related sanitary rules simply for calling for the protests, which in their view amounted to a crime. Russian authorities must stop denying and violating the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression, and must not use COVID-19 related restrictions to jail and silence their critics. All those detained solely for calling for, organizing, or participating in peaceful protests must be immediately released.

RSF: Despite measures supposedly designed to limit arbitrary arrests of journalists, at least ten were arrested during demonstrations across Russia on 21 April in support of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who has been on hunger strike since 31 March. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the authorities to order the police to let journalists do their job.

The Guardian, 23 April 2021: The future looked unspeakably grim for Alexei Navalny’s supporters before this week’s protests. Their charismatic leader was in prison and by his doctors’ accounts near death while the Kremlin was threatening to outlaw his entire movement. Sensing a looming apocalypse, one aide dubbed the protest: “The final battle between normal people and absolute evil.” What followed was surprisingly normal: a core of tens of thousands of Navalny supporters rallied near the Kremlin, waving mobile phone torches and chanting “Putin is a thief!” The police stood back in Moscow (there was a violent crackdown in St Petersburg). For an evening, the crowd roved the streets of the capital at will. “This feeling of enthusiasm, of overcoming fear, the protest ended on a positive note … It left me with the feeling that nothing is lost, it’s still not the final battle, and that street protests in Russia are not over forever,” said Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, in an interview from Europe.

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