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Russia's Navalny starts hunger strike to demand medical care

By HENRY MEYER | Bloomberg | Published: March 31, 2021

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny said he's started a hunger strike to pressure prison authorities to provide him with medical care.

"I have declared a hunger strike demanding that the law be followed and they allow the requested doctor to visit me," Navalny wrote in an Instagram post on Wednesday. "So I'm lying here hungry, but so far with both legs."

The Kremlin opponent says he's been suffering from acute back pain for several weeks and is practically unable to walk on his right leg, accusing officials of denying him treatment. Numbness has now spread to his left leg as well, and he's not receiving medicine to treat the condition, Navalny said. "Jokes aside, this is starting to get worrying."

The decision to declare a hunger strike raises the stakes in Navalny's confrontation with President Vladimir Putin. The Russian leader's most outspoken critic has been held at the notorious IK-2 prison about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Moscow since March 11. He was imprisoned for breaching parole while recovering in Germany from a near-fatal nerve-agent poisoning in Siberia last year that he and Western governments have blamed on the Kremlin. Russian authorities deny involvement.

Navalny has demanded access to a Moscow specialist and an end to prison guards waking him every hour during the night.

"Why do prisoners go on hunger strikes? This question concerns only those who've never been a a prisoner," he said. "From the inside, everything is simple: you have no other means to fight, so you make the announcement."

The penal colony holding 44-year-old Navalny is known for its particularly harsh regime. He's serving a 2½-year sentence for violating probation terms of an earlier suspended fraud sentence in a case that the European Court of Human Rights has called politically motivated.

His supporters have called for a day of rallies across Russia this spring. Nationwide protests that erupted in January following Navalny's detention petered out after a major crackdown that led to thousands of arrests.

Navalny's allies say almost 360,000 people have pledged anonymously to take part in new demonstrations calling for his release. The target is 500,000.