MOSCOW – Jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Friday he was ending his hunger strike after receiving medical treatment and was warned by his doctors that continuing it would put his life at risk.
In an Instagram post on day 24 of her hunger strike, Navalny said she will continue to request a visit to her doctor to address numbness in her legs and arms, her main request. But he said he would stop the strike after being examined by doctors not affiliated with the prison, something he called “huge progress”.
He also acknowledged the mass protests in favor of Navalny across Russia on Wednesday and multiple letters and statements in support of him from public figures and government officials around the world.
“Thanks to the enormous support of good people across the country and around the world, we have made tremendous progress,” Navalny said in his message from behind bars. “Two months ago, my requests for medical help were causing smiles. I was not given any drugs. … Thanks to you, I have now been examined twice by a jury of civilian doctors. “
Another reason he was ending the hunger strike was that some of his supporters refused to eat in solidarity with him, Navalny said.
“Tears flowed from my eyes when I read it. God, I don’t even know these people and they do it for me. Friends, my heart is full of love and gratitude for you, but I don’t want anyone to suffer physically because of me, ”said the 44-year-old politician, who is President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.
He said he would start “coming out of hunger strike” on Friday and that the process to finish it will take 24 days.
Navalny began the strike on March 31, after developing severe back pain and loss of sensation in her legs. Prison officials said he was getting all the medical help he needed, but Navalny insisted he actually received no treatment.
Navalny’s doctors said Saturday they feared he was close to death because his test results showed significantly elevated potassium levels, which can lead to cardiac arrest, and increased creatinine levels indicating kidney problems.
He was transferred Sunday from a penal colony east of Moscow to the hospital ward of another prison in Vladimir, a city 180 kilometers (110 miles) east of the capital.
The day after mass protests calling for his freedom spread across Russia, a team of his doctors released a letter urging him to end his hunger strike.
The letter revealed that Navalny was taken to a regular hospital in Vladimir on Tuesday, where he underwent tests and was examined by specialists “according to” his doctors’ requests. He said Thursday they received the results of those tests through the lawyers and Navalny’s family.
In another statement after Navalny announced the end of the hunger strike, his team of doctors said further tests were needed to understand the diagnosis and asked that he be transferred to a well-equipped hospital in Moscow and they offered him adequate pain relief.
“He suffered for two months,” reads the statement, published in the Novaya Gazeta newspaper. “It has been two months since the symptoms occurred, but a correct diagnosis has not been determined so far.”
Navalny was arrested in January on his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from poisoning with the nerve agent he blames the Kremlin – charges Russian officials deny.
He was promptly prosecuted for violating the terms of a suspended sentence resulting from a 2014 embezzlement conviction, which he said was politically motivated. He was ordered to serve the remainder of a two and a half year sentence.
Navalny’s arrest sparked mass protests – the biggest show of defiance the Kremlin has encountered in years. The authorities responded with harsh crackdowns, arresting thousands and hundreds of incarcerated people. Navalny aides and associates across Russia have also been targeted with detentions and raids. Some of his best allies have been slapped on criminal charges and placed under house arrest.
Last week, Russian authorities took the pressure to a new level, with the Moscow prosecutor’s office petitioning a court to label it as its Anti-Corruption Foundation and network of regional offices. as extremist groups. Human rights activists say such a move would paralyze their activities and expose their members and donors to prison terms of up to 10 years.
Meanwhile, Navalny will face tough days, his close ally Lyubov Sobol said in a Facebook post. “Now will come very difficult days to get out of hunger. I know myself, “wrote Sobol, who spent 32 days on a hunger strike in 2019.
“The first week of coming out is essentially the same hunger strike: you are not allowed to eat anything, only to drink very thin juices and porridges, in minimal quantities. … (He) won’t start eating solid foods anytime soon, “he said, adding that the lack of access to regular food and fresh produce in prison complicates the situation.