Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny said he started a hunger strike to pressure prison officials to provide him with medical care instead of “torturing” him with sleep deprivation.
“I declared a hunger strike demanding that the law be enforced and that they allow the requested doctor to visit me,” wrote Navalny in an Instagram post on Wednesday. “So, I’m lying here hungry, but so far with both legs.” The Kremlin opponent says he has been suffering from severe back pain for several weeks and is practically unable to walk with his right leg, accusing authorities of denying him treatment. The numbness has now spread to his left leg as well, and he is not receiving medicine to treat the disease, 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 most outspoken critic of the Russian leader has been detained in the famous IK-2 prison, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Moscow since March 11. He was arrested for parole violations while recovering in Germany from an almost fatal nervous agent poisoning in Siberia last year, which he and Western governments blamed on the Kremlin. Russian officials deny involvement.
Navalny demanded access to an expert in Moscow and the end of jailers who “torture” him by waking him up every hour during the night.
“Why do prisoners go on a hunger strike? This issue concerns only those who have never been prisoners, ”he said. “Inside, everything is simple: you have no other way to fight, so you make the announcement”.
The prison service said Navalny was being treated according to the law and denied that he was woken up every hour. “Convicted Navalny receives all necessary medical assistance according to his current medical symptoms,” Vladimir’s prison service said on its website.
READ: Putin’s opponent, Navalny, says his health is getting worse
The penal colony that houses Navalny, 44, is known for its particularly severe regime. He is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for violating the terms of parole from a previous suspended fraud sentence in a case that the European Court of Human Rights has classified as politically motivated.
His supporters called a day of rallies across Russia this spring. The nationwide protests that erupted in January after Navalny’s arrest were extinguished after a major crackdown that led to thousands of arrests.
Navalny’s allies say that almost 360,000 people have anonymously pledged to participate in new demonstrations calling for his release. The goal is 500,000.