Allies of the Kremlin critic, who claims to be on hunger strike, prepare to demonstrate over an alleged lack of medical care.
Russian police have stepped up security at the prison holding Alexey Navalny as the Kremlin critic’s supporters prepare to stage a rally outside the facility to demand that authorities give him proper medical care.
Navalny, 44, announced a hunger strike last week in protest against what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to treat him for acute back and leg pain.
A group of his allies said they would gather at the prison in the town of Pokrov, 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow, from Tuesday unless he saw a doctor of his choice and was given what they termed “sufficient treatment”.
Prison authorities claim Navalny’s condition is satisfactory and he has been provided with all necessary medical care.
But Navalny has said he was continuing a hunger strike despite a high temperature and bad cough, claiming three inmates in his ward had been hospitalised with tuberculosis.
After his claims, pro-Kremlin Izvestia newspaper cited the state prison service as saying that Navalny had been moved to sickbay and was tested for the coronavirus.
State media and some members of a prison monitoring group had previously accused Navalny of faking his medical problems to keep himself in the public eye.
‘He is innocent’
On Tuesday morning, police officers, one with a police dog, set up a makeshift checkpoint in front of the prison gate and used a metal barrier to block a nearby road.
They closed the parking lot to all but prison staff and checked the IDs of reporters and prison workers.
“It is now under a special (security) regime,” a policewoman told Reuters.
Antonina Romanova, a Navalny supporter, said she would attend the protest in a show of solidarity.
“I believe he is innocent. I’m fully on his side,” Romanova told Reuters. “It happens that, for some reason, the people who can sort things out in the country end up in jail,” she said.
Navalny was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve-agent poisoning that he blames on the Kremlin.
Russian authorities have rejected the accusation.
In February, Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating the terms of his probation while convalescing in Germany.
The sentence stems from a 2014 embezzlement conviction that Navalny has rejected as fabricated, and which the European Сourt of Human Rights has deemed unlawful.
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in cities and towns across Russia in January to demand Navalny’s release.
The wave of demonstrations was the largest show of public dissent in the country in years and posed a major challenge to the Kremlin, which considers the protests illegal.