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Alexei Navalny being transferred to prison hospital, Russian officials say

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who is in the third week of a hunger strike, will be admitted to a hospital in another prison, the Russian state penitentiary service said Monday, after the politician’s doctor said he could be near death.

The prison service, FSIN, also said that Navalny had agreed to take vitamin therapy, but an ally of the 44-year-old Kremlin critic cast doubt on that as well as the hospital transfer, saying his lawyers should confirm both.

The service said in a statement that Navalny would be transferred to a hospital for convicts located in a penal colony in Vladimir, a city 180 kilometres east of Moscow. According to the statement, Navalny’s condition is deemed “satisfactory.”

But the opposition leader’s physician, Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin, said Saturday that test results he received from the family show Navalny with sharply elevated levels of potassium, which can bring on cardiac arrest, and heightened creatinine levels that indicate impaired kidneys.

“Our patient could die at any moment,” Ashikhmin said in a Facebook post.

The United States has warned Russia of unspecified “consequences” should Navalny die in Russian jail. EU foreign ministers were due to discuss the case on Monday.

The Kremlin said on Monday it would retaliate against any further sanctions and rejected foreign countries’ statements on the case.

“The state of health of those convicted and jailed on Russian territory cannot and should not be a theme of their interest,” spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

Anti-Putin protest scheduled for Wednesday

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest opponent, was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin — accusations Russian officials have rejected.

The arrest triggered a massive wave of protests all across Russia, the biggest show of defiance in recent years. Soon after, a court ordered Navalny to serve 2 ½ years in prison on a 2014 embezzlement conviction that the European Court of Human Rights deemed to be “arbitrary and manifestly unreasonable.”

Navalny went on hunger strike in prison to protest the refusal to let his doctors visit when he began experiencing severe back pain and a loss of feeling in his legs. Russia’s state penitentiary service has said that Navalny was receiving all the medical help he needs.

In response to the alarming news about Navalny’s health this weekend, his team has called for a nationwide rally on Wednesday, the same day Putin is scheduled to deliver his annual state of the nation address.

European leaders, including European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, are assessing the bloc’s strategy toward Russia amid the weakening health of imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (Francois Walschaerts/The Associated Press)

Several Navalny allies dismissed the hospital transfer announced by the prison service as insufficient. Navalny’s top strategist, Leonid Volkov, said no one should assume it was happening until the opposition leader’s lawyers confirm it. The lawyers were en route to the prison where the hospital was located, Volkov said.

“Until the lawyers locate him, we won’t know where he is and what is up with him,” Volkov wrote in a Facebook post.

Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting Corruption, tweeted Monday that the move announced by the prison service would take the politician merely to another “tormenting colony, just with a big in-patient facility, where the gravely ill are being transferred.”

Hospital deemed ‘prison’ where tuberculosis treated

Dr. Anastasia Vasilyeva, head of the Navalny-backed Alliance of Doctors union and also the politician’s personal physician, noted that it was “not a hospital where a diagnosis can be determined and treatment [can be] prescribed for his ailments,” but rather “a prison where tuberculosis is being treated.”

She again called for the prison to let her and other physicians see Navalny.

Last month, the politician was transferred to a penal colony east of Moscow, notorious for its harsh conditions.

Navalny has complained about being sleep-deprived due to guards conducting hourly checks on him at night, and said he has developed severe back pain and numbness in his legs within weeks of being transferred to the colony. His demands for a visit from an independent “civilian” physician were rebuffed by prison officials, and he went on hunger strike on March 31.

In a message from prison on Friday, Navalny said prison officials threatened to force-feed him “imminently,” using a “straitjacket and other pleasures.”

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