Navalny Says He Will End Hunger Strike

By RFE/RL's Russian Service

Jailed Russian opposition politician Navalny says he is ending a hunger strike he launched last month over his medical treatment in prison saying he had "achieved enough."

The Kremlin critic, who began his hunger strike on March 31, confirmed in an Instagram post on April 23 that his health is ailing and that he continues to demand that he be examined by his personal doctors for acute pain in his back and legs.

Navalny was moved from the prison he is incarcerated in to the infirmary at another nearby penitentiary last weekend after Anastasia Vasilyeva, Navalny's personal doctor and the head of Russia's Alliance of Doctors union, and three other physicians, including a cardiologist, said in a letter to the Federal Penitentiary Service that his condition had rapidly deteriorated and he could suffer cardiac arrest "any minute."

Navalny's doctors said in a statement on April 23 they had examined his medical results, and recommended that he is transferred to a "modern" hospital in Moscow where a full diagnosis could be established with the involvement of Western specialists.

"What we saw cannot be described simply with the words 'bad' and 'unprofessional' -- is monstrous. Tomorrow we will publish a full-fledged analysis," Vasilyeva tweeted.

"One thing we know for sure: Aleksei must immediately undergo recovery at a hospital. Otherwise he will die," she added.

The previous day, the doctors urged Navalny to end the hunger strike, saying that if it "continues even a little longer, we will simply no longer have a patient to treat."

"Doctors, whom I fully trust, yesterday issued a statement saying that you and I had achieved enough to stop my hunger strike," Navalny said in the post, referring to a statement published on the Mediazona website on April 22 by his doctors.

"To tell you sincerely, their words, saying that the tests show that 'in a short time there will be no one to treat'… seem worth paying attention to," he added.

The 44-year-old said he has been examined twice by "civilian doctors" and that he will take 24 days to gradually return to a normal eating routine.

"I am losing sensitivity in parts of my arms and legs and I want to understand what is causing it and how to treat it," Navalny said.

"According to the guidelines, it will take another 24 days to end the hunger strike, and they say this will be even harder. So, wish me luck."

In his statement on Instagram, Navalny said he especially wanted to thank the people who joined his hunger strike, including representatives of the Mothers of Beslan, a group uniting the majority of mothers of 189 children killed in the 2004 standoff between hostage-takers and Russian security forces in the North Caucasus city of Beslan.

"One more reason [to stop the hunger strike] that became probably even more important to me was the move of several people, including representatives of the Mothers of Beslan, to start a hunger strike in solidarity with me. My eyes watered when I read about it. I don't even know these people and they are doing that for me. My friends, my heart is full of love and gratitude to you, but I do not want someone to physically suffer because of me," Navalny wrote.

More than 100 people signed up on Facebook to join in a mass hunger strike in solidarity with Navalny, including five parents whose children died in the 2004 school siege in Beslan, the legacy of which still resonates in Russia's North Ossetia region.

"They've taken a man hostage and are destroying him. Our children were also taken hostage in 2004 and no one saved them," one of them, Ella Kesayeva, told the Novaya gazeta newspaper on April 21 in explaining why the parents joined the hunger strike.

Navalny's move comes two days after thousands of Russians from Vladivostok in the Far East to Kaliningrad on the Baltic Sea joined protests called by leaders of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK), who feared he could be harmed "irreparably" if he doesn't get adequate medical treatment.

OVD-Info, which monitors the detention of political protesters and activists, reported almost 2,000 detentions across the country, with about half the detentions in St. Petersburg, in what Amnesty International described as being part of a "shocking crackdown on basic freedoms."

Police detained at least 10 journalists and harassed others in relation to their coverage of protests, according to media freedom watchdogs.

Navalny was arrested on January 17 upon his return to Russia from Germany, where he received life-saving treatment for a poisoning attack in Siberia in August.

He has insisted that his poisoning with a Soviet-style chemical nerve agent was ordered directly by Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Kremlin has denied any role in the poisoning.

In February, a Moscow court ruled that while in Germany, Navalny had violated the terms of parole from an old embezzlement case that is widely considered to be politically motivated.

Navalny's 3 1/2-year suspended sentence from the case was converted to a prison term, though the court said he will serve 2 1/2 years in prison given time already served in detention.

The United States and European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over the Navalny affair and the government's crackdown on demonstrators earlier this year at rallies protesting Navalny's arrest.

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