Alexei Navalny has complained of a “sharp deterioration” in his health in prison and has been blocked from meeting lawyers, a senior aide to the Russian opposition leader has said.
Navalny has reported “serious back pain” and numbness in one of his legs that has left him unable to stand on it, Leonid Volkov said on Wednesday.
Navalny’s lawyers said they had been blocked from meeting him on Wednesday and they suspected that he was in an infirmary in the IK-2 prison colony in the Vladimir region.
“We don’t understand where Alexei Navalny is or why he is being hidden from his lawyers,” they said, adding that they suspected the prison administration was trying to cover up his possible hospitalisation.
The IK-2 prison is notoriously strict and said to excel at isolating inmates from the outside world.
Navalny’s supporters have said they fear for his life. He survived a poisoning attempt with a military-grade nerve agent last summer that was traced back to Russia’s FSB. He was jailed upon returning to Russia this year and sentenced to two and a half years in prison on embezzlement charges he has called political.
Russia has refused to comply with a European court of human rights ruling calling for Navalny’s release because his safety in prison could not be ensured.
“With all the circumstances known to us, the sharp deterioration in his health can’t not evoke extreme concern,” the lawyers Olga Mikhailova and Vadim Kobzev wrote in a statement published by Volkov. They said it was the first time since Navalny’s arrest that he had not appeared at a scheduled meeting with his lawyers.
In the note, the lawyers wrote that Navalny had seen a prison doctor who gave him just two ibuprofen tablets.
Tens of thousands of people across Russia protested against Navalny’s detention in late January and early February, leading to a mass crackdown on the opposition and thousands of arrests.
The opposition called a temporary halt to the protests but has said it will resume them as soon as 500,000 people sign an online petition calling for Navalny’s release. Nearly 200,000 had signed up as of Wednesday evening.
Many of Navalny’s senior aides, as well as his brother Oleg, are under house arrest for alleged violations over the protests. Others such as Volkov are abroad.
Wednesday’s post was the first report that Navalny was experiencing health problems in prison. Earlier, an account run by his supporters included a photograph of him with a shaved head and a letter describing his life in prison, which he called a “genuine concentration camp 100km from Moscow”.
He said he had not seen “even a hint of violence” since arriving at the prison, but the prisoners appeared to be in constant fear of surveillance and of being written up for violating prison rules. He compared the atmosphere to George Orwell’s 1984. He had been listed as a flight risk, he said, and was regularly awoken at night by someone sent to confirm he was still in his bed.
In another letter from prison published on Instagram this week, he described his morning ritual of listening to the national anthem and marching in place alongside other inmates, jokingly comparing them to stormtroopers from Star Wars.
“They have cigarettes in their teeth. Instead of laser rifles, they have metal crowbars,” he wrote. “But wherever they may be, at 6.05 they listen to the national anthem, at 6.10 they do their exercises, and at 6.30 they put out the porridge in their metal bowls and pour sweet tea into their metal cups. May the force be with you.”