Jailed Kremlin critic Navalny’s health ‘normal’ after hunger strike

Prisons chief, aide confirm Russia’s top opposition figure has recovered, as Putin moves to outlaw his organization

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a glass cage during a hearing in the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2021. (Moscow City Court via AP)
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny stands in a glass cage during a hearing in the Moscow City Court in Moscow, Russia, February 2, 2021. (Moscow City Court via AP)

MOSCOW, Russia — Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has recovered after he ended a 24-day hunger strike last month demanding adequate medical treatment, a top aide and the head of Russia’s prison service said Thursday.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s best known domestic critic, is serving two and a half years in a penal colony outside Moscow on old fraud charges he says are politically motivated.

The 44-year-old opposition figure went on hunger strike at the end of March demanding proper treatment behind bars for severe back pain and numbness in his limbs. He ended the protest on April 23 after receiving treatment at a civilian hospital.

His last public appearance was by video link in court during an appeal hearing at the end of April, where he appeared thin and said he had started eating a couple of spoonfuls of porridge a day.

On Thursday, news agency TASS quoted the head of Russia’s Federal Prison Service, Alexander Kalashnikov, as saying that Navalny “has recovered, more or less.”

“His weight is already up to 82 kilograms (180 pounds), I think,” Kalashnikov told journalists.

The prisons chief, who has been sanctioned both by the US and the EU over the treatment of Navalny, added that the Kremlin critic is “eating normally.”

The director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), Ivan Zhdanov, confirmed his health was improving.

People attend a protest against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny in in St. Petersburg, Russia on January 31, 2021. (AP/Valentin Egorshin)

‘Recovery underway’

“His condition is now more or less normal. The recovery process is indeed underway,” Zhdanov said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Navalny’s allies said that he weighed 93 kilograms (205 pounds) when he arrived in prison in February, but that the figure had already fallen to 85 kilograms (187 pounds) by the time he launched his hunger strike.

His wife Yulia in mid-April said that his weight was down to 76 kilograms (167 pounds).

The update on Navalny’s health comes as Russia moves to outlaw his movement. Next month a court will begin hearing whether to add his network of regional offices and the FBK to a list of “terrorist and extremist” organizations.

In a move targeting his supporters, Russia’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday approved legislation in a first reading that would ban members of “extremist” organizations from becoming lawmakers.

Since Navalny returned to Russia in January from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blames on Putin, most of his top allies have been placed under house arrest or left the country.

Several announced publicly they were quitting the FBK after prosecutors requested the extremism tag.

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