Supporters of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny called on the Russians to protest his harsh treatment in prison, saying it could lead to his imminent death.
Leonid Volkov, who has headed the Navalny Foundation from exile in Vilnius, Lithuania, said in a video message on Sunday that the life of the anti-corruption activist was “hanging on a thread” 19 days after a hunger strike to protest against the prison’s refusal to let him. see a doctor of their choice.
“However, we might not want to think about it, step back or change the subject – it doesn’t change the fact that they kill Alexei Navalny.” In the most terrible way. In front of us all, ”Volkov said.
“And the question arises for all of us whether we like it or not: are we ready to do something to save the life of a man who has risked his for us for many years?”
Yaroslav Ashikhmin, a cardiologist, on Saturday released test results which he said showed Navalny had high creatine levels that could lead to kidney failure, as well as potentially fatal potassium levels that could cause cardiac arrest at ” any time”.
Navalny’s sharp deterioration in health comes as the Kremlin appears increasingly determined to eliminate the threat from President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic.
Russian prosecutors said on Friday they would have the Navalny Anti-Corruption Foundation and its network of regional offices declared an “extremist organization” in an unprecedented move that would essentially shut down its operations while exposing its team. to possible criminal proceedings.
Supporters of Navalny have described the crackdown on their group and its harsh treatment in prison as a “desperate attack” by the Kremlin in response to Putin’s declining approval ratings amid a multi-year economic decline.
“If we don’t speak now, the darkest times for the free people are at hand. Russia will sink into total despair. Peaceful political activity in Russia will be impossible, ”said Ivan Zhdanov, head of the Navalny Foundation.
Navalny’s team called for the protest – which they called “the final battle between good and neutrality” – to be held on Wednesday evening in a square outside the Kremlin. Putin is expected to deliver his annual State of the Nation address to the Russian elite hours earlier.
The rally will be a big test of support for Navalny – and the Kremlin’s willingness to crack down on him – after a brutal police response forced them to drop protests against his arrest in more than 100 cities in January.
Navalny, 44, was arrested at a Moscow airport in January immediately upon his return from Germany, where he spent five months recovering from poisoning with the military nerve agent novichok.
He was then ordered to spend two and a half years in jail for missing parole meetings linked to a 2014 suspended sentence – several of which were in a coma after the poisoning.
On Saturday, US President Joe Biden said Navalny’s treatment was “totally, totally unfair, totally inappropriate on the grounds that he was poisoned and then went on a hunger strike. Wrong”.
The Kremlin has denied any involvement in the poisoning of Navalny, his imprisonment and the conditions of his detention.
“He won’t be allowed to die in prison, but I can say that Mr Navalny, he’s behaving like a thug, absolutely,” Andrei Kelin, Russian ambassador to the UK, said in a BBC interview on Sunday. . “His purpose in all of this is to bring attention to himself.”
Jake Sullivan, US national security adviser, told CNN on Sunday: “We have informed the Russian government that what happens to Mr. Navalny in detention is their responsibility and that they will be held accountable by the international community. . .[T]there will be consequences if Mr. Navalny dies.
Last month Navalny was transferred to a penal colony known for its harsh treatment of detainees.
He continued hunger-strike in late March, to protest the guards’ refusal to let him be treated by a doctor of his choice for severe nerve pain from two herniated discs in his back, as well as sleep deprivation tactics he said amounted to the torture”.
Navalny’s team may encounter significant difficulties in organizing the protest after prosecutors ruled their organization “extremist”.
This designation equates Navalny and his supporters with neo-Nazis, al-Qaeda, and the Japanese cult of Aum Shinrikyo. That means leaders of his foundation could be jailed for up to 10 years and supporters could face up to eight years in prison for donating, according to Pavel Chikov, director of Agora, a legal aid foundation. .
Since Russia declared Jehovah’s Witnesses an “extremist organization” in 2017, 463 members of the Christian denomination have faced criminal charges, while police have raided 1,416 homes of members of the group, Chikov said. .
Several of Navalny’s main allies are under house arrest for violating public health rules by staging unauthorized protests for his release in January.
Police have arrested Zhdanov’s elderly father, as well as several employees of the Navalny regional headquarters in recent weeks.
On Friday, a court also sentenced Pavel Zelensky, the foundation’s cameraman, to two years in prison for writing two tweets deemed “extremist”.