Navalny’s health was threatened by prison conditions

Navalny’s health was threatened by prison conditions

Aleksei A. Navalny presented himself as invincible, consistently using his trademark humor to suggest that President Vladimir V. Putin could not break him, no matter how dire his prison conditions had become.

But behind that brave face, the reality was evident. Since his incarceration in early 2021, Mr. Navalny, Russia’s most formidable opposition figure, and his aides have regularly suggested that his conditions were so harsh that he was being put to death in slow motion.

Today, his colleagues believe their fears have come true.

The cause of Mr Navalny’s death in prison, at age 47, has not been established – in fact his family has not yet even been allowed to see his body – but Russia’s harshest penal colonies are known for their dangerous conditions, and Mr. Navalny has been singled out for particularly brutal treatment.

“Alexei Navalny was subjected to torment and torture for three years,” said Russian journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry A. Muratov. wrote in a column after the announcement of his death on Friday. “As Navalny’s doctor told me: the body cannot handle this.”

More than a quarter of Mr Navalny’s incarceration since 2021 has been spent in frozen “disciplinary cells” and he has often been denied access to medical care. He was transferred to increasingly cruel prisons. And at one point he said he was being given injections but was being prevented from finding out what was in the syringes. His team feared he might be poisoned again.

What specifically led to Mr Navalny’s death on Friday in a remote prison above the Arctic Circle may remain a mystery. Russia’s prison service issued a statement Friday afternoon saying Mr. Navalny had felt ill and suddenly lost consciousness after being released.

Russian state media reported that he suffered a blood clot. But the story changed on Saturday, when Mr Navalny’s mother and lawyer arrived at the prison. They were told he was suffering from “sudden death syndrome,” which appears to indicate sudden cardiac arrest, according to Ivan Zhdanov, director of Mr. Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation.

Investigators told Mr Navalny’s lawyer that a new examination was underway and the results would be published next week. Mr Navalny’s team demanded that the body be immediately released so his family could order an independent analysis, accusing Russian authorities of lying to cover up the body.

According to his aides, Mr. Navalny was placed in a disciplinary cell at the Arctic prison in the Yamalo-Nenets autonomous region on Wednesday, two days before Russian authorities announced his death.

His spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said it was his 27th time in such an inhumane space, usually a concrete cell about 7 feet by 10 feet, in unbearable conditions — cold, damp and poorly ventilated. Had he survived, his latest round of punishment would have brought his total time in such a cell to 308 days, more than a quarter of his incarceration time, according to Ms. Yarmysh.

Once a day at 6:30 a.m., prisoners in the Arctic center’s punishment cells are allowed to enter a coffin-like concrete enclosure, open to the sky through a metal grille, Mr. Navalny said. in a message from the establishment earlier this year. It appears that it was after such a session on Friday that Mr. Navalny lost consciousness, according to the Russian prison administration’s account. It was about -20 degrees Fahrenheit outside.

In a letter sent to prison last month, Mr Navalny described how he could take a total of 11 steps from one end of the open-air space to the other, noting that the coldest point he temperature so far on one of his walks was: 26 degrees Fahrenheit.

“Even at this temperature, you can walk for more than half an hour, provided you have time to grow a new nose, new ears and new fingers,” he writes. “There are few things as invigorating as a walk in Yamal at 6:30 in the morning. And what a wonderful cool breeze blows in the courtyard, despite the concrete enclosure, wow!

While walking there recently, he said he was freezing and he thought about how Leonardo DiCaprio climbed on a dead horse to escape the cold in the wilderness survival film “The Revenant.” A dead horse would freeze in this part of Russia in 15 minutes, Mr. Navalny surmised.

“We need an elephant here – a hot, fried elephant,” he said.

Mr. Navalny has often demonstrated such spirit in the face of the inhumane treatment he receives. But it became increasingly clear during his three years of incarceration that he might not survive.

“Navalny’s cumulative treatment over several years in prison – in a way that one could say, brought him close to death,” said Mariana Katzarova, special rapporteur of the United Nations Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Russia, in an interview. SATURDAY. ” We do not know yet. We need an investigation.

For a time, Mr. Navalny seemed almost invincible.

In August 2020, he fell ill on a flight from the Siberian city of Tomsk to Moscow, after being poisoned with a Russian-made Novichok family nerve agent. He was put in a medically induced coma for two weeks during treatment in Germany – and survived.

The U.S. government later attributed the poisoning to the Russian Federal Security Service, known as the FSB.

Despite the assassination attempt, Mr. Navalny returned to Russia in early 2021 to continue his fight against Mr. Putin, who has denied Russian involvement in the poisoning, and quickly found himself imprisoned. His health began to deteriorate almost immediately.

In March 2021, he complained about severe back pain which later turned into a leg problem.

He demanded that prison authorities provide him with proper medical care and medication. Instead, they subjected him to sleep deprivation, he said. At the end of March 2021, it declared a hunger strike over his treatment, and Russian doctors and Hollywood stars championed his cause in open letters to Mr. Putin.

About three weeks later, Mr. Navalny was examined by an independent panel of doctors. Tests carried out by doctors revealed that “soon there will be no one left to treat,” Mr Navalny said in a post on Instagram.

Last year, Mr. Navalny wrote from prison that his jokes about the punishment cell should not normalize the environment. He lamented that another political prisoner, who had spoken out against the war in Ukraine, had been placed in a punishment cell, even though he was disabled and missing part of a lung.

Mr Navalny described dire health conditions in prison, where he said many inmates suffered from tuberculosis. He also complained early last year that the administration at his former prison had placed a mentally ill no one in a cell opposite his, as a form of torment, and a sick prisoner in his small cell.

At the time, his lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, said the prison deliberately infected him with a respiratory illness, refused to give him medicine and then “treated” him with huge doses of antibiotics against -indicated. Mr. Navalny suffered severe stomach pain and lost more than 15 pounds, Mr. Kobzev said.

“These actions can only be considered as an open strategy aimed at destroying Navalny’s health by any means,” Kobzev said in a statement at the time. “Clearly, the prison would not risk engaging in such a level of demonstrative illegality without approval from Moscow.”

Mr Kobzev has since been arrested on extremism charges for association with Mr Navalny – part of a wider raid by the opposition leader’s lawyers late last year.

Mr Navalny suffered an attack of dizziness and was put on an intravenous drip during an unexplained medical episode in early December. But Russian authorities still transferred him later that month from a prison in the Vladimir region, about 210 kilometers east of Moscow, to the “special regime” penal colony in the Arctic where he is dead.

Several doctors contacted after his death, including one who had participated in his initial treatment in the Siberian city of Omsk, said his death was likely unrelated to his poisoning more than three years earlier, given his recovery. robust.

But he has since faced many other health risks.

“A Russian prison is a place where you have to be prepared to die every day,” Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, a Russian tycoon who spent a decade in prison after defying Mr. Putin, said Friday.

In the interview, Mr. Khodorkovsky, who was released in 2013, said that a prisoner must find a way to view the burden as a test to survive mentally, and that is what Mr. Navalny did. But even then, he added, “it won’t protect you from being killed.”

Anton Troianovsky reports contributed.

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Eric D. Eilerman

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