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Navalny declares hunger strike in prison for medical treatment

MOSCOW – Jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny on Wednesday declared a hunger strike to protest what he called prison officials’ failure to provide him with proper medical care for pain severe on the back and right leg.

In a handwritten letter to the director of the prison, Mr. Navalny, the most outspoken critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, complained that despite his worsening condition, he was not allowed to see a doctor of his choice or to receive the necessary medication.

Mr Navalny, who was the victim of near-fatal poisoning in August, wrote in the letter, posted online by his supporters, that he needed “to see a doctor very badly” and that he would not put not end his hunger strike “before it happens.” “Prison staff,” he added, “had also ordered a campaign of psychological harassment against him, including sleep deprivation.

Mr Navalny had said in an earlier statement that prison doctors only provided ibuprofen pills to treat the pain, describing the prison as “a real concentration camp 60 miles from Moscow”.

The prison service said in a statement on Wednesday that Mr Navalny had received all the medical help he needed and that guards were required to check that inmates were present in their beds.

Mr Navalny collapsed in a coma on a plane flight last August and was medically evacuated from Russia to Berlin.

After extensive testing, the German and French governments, as well as international chemical weapons specialists, confirmed that he had been poisoned with a Soviet-designed military nerve agent, Novichok. Mr Navalny said the attack on his life was ordered by the Kremlin.

Mr Putin has denied any role for the state in the poisoning, arguing that if the Russian state had wanted to kill him, it would have succeeded.

On Tuesday, Mr Putin discussed Mr Navalny’s situation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who demanded that his rights be respected. European Union officials have called for the immediate release of Mr. Navalny.

Mr. Navalny’s ability to reach millions of his subscribers via social media with the help of his lawyers and others has indicated that he could remain a threat to Mr. Putin’s grip on Russia, even in prison. After a series of large-scale protests demanding his release in January, his team announced more protests this spring.

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