Allies of jailed opposition figure Alexei Navalny on Thursday demanded information about his health and whereabouts after Russia’s prison service said his condition was stable but prevented lawyers from meeting with him.
Navalny, 44, was jailed last month on old embezzlement charges, sparking large protests, an outcry from rights groups in Russia and abroad and condemnation from Western governments.
His lawyers on Wednesday sounded the alarm over his health in one of Russia’s most notorious prisons and demanded immediate access, saying he had complained of back pain and numbness in his legs.
The prison service told news agencies Thursday that medics had carried out checks the day before on inmates in the Vladimir region outside Moscow, including on Navalny.
“According to the results of the examination, his state of health was assessed as stable and satisfactory,” the Federal Prison Service (FSIN) said.
Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov responded that lawyers had returned to Pokrov, the provincial town outside the Russian capital where Navalny is being held, but were denied access.
He added that FSIN’s message suggested that Navalny was in hospital and that “something very bad is happening to him”.
Navalny was jailed in February for two-and-a-half years in a move his allies said was a pretext to silence his criticism of Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
The United States and the European Union have slapped sanctions on Russia for jailing Navalny and also for orchestrating a poisoning attack against him last year.
He was detained in January on his return to Russia from Germany where he had been recovering from exposure to the Soviet-designed nerve toxin Novichok.
– Protests planned –
On Wednesday, Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova said he had complained of back pain and that one of his legs had become numb.
She added that he had visited a neurologist who said there was nothing wrong with Navalny and prescribed him ibuprofen.
One of the trained lawyer’s allies, Maria Pevchikh, who heads investigations at his Anti-Corruption Foundation, said Navalny’s supporters believed his “life is in danger”.
Navalny is serving out his two-and-a-half year sentence 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow in a penal colony infamous for harsh discipline.
In his first message from Penal Colony No.2 in Pokrov earlier this month, Navalny described the facility as “a real concentration camp,” and said he was “surprised” by the poor conditions.
Navalny has been a thorn in the Kremlin’s side for nearly a decade by probing corruption among officials and staging large protests throughout Russia.
His detention at a Moscow airport in January sparked protests that saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets across the country.
Navalny’s allies this week launched a campaign seeking his release and announced plans to stage what they said would be “modern Russia’s biggest protest.”