Russian police arrested several allies of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny on Tuesday and raided two of its regional offices, a protest monitoring group said, a day before supporters planned to hold mass protests against his treatment in prison.
Navalny, 44, declared a hunger strike at the end of March over what he said was the prison authorities’ refusal to treat him properly for severe back and leg pain.
Following reports of his declining health since then and recent warnings that he “could die at any time”, the Russian prison service said on Sunday that he had been transferred to a prison hospital.
The service said Navalny’s condition was rated “satisfactory” but added that he had agreed to receive “vitamin therapy”.
However, his allies said he still had not received proper medical attention despite being displaced.
Navalny’s doctors and lawyers arrived at the Vladimir penal colony, a town 180 km east of Moscow, where he is currently being held on Tuesday, and asked to visit him.
But they were told that the facility manager was not available and that they were waiting for hours.
“He’s very weak. It is difficult for him to speak and sit down, ”Navalny’s lawyer Olga Mikhailova told reporters outside the penal colony.
Mikhailova called for the opposition figure to be transferred to a civilian hospital in the capital, Moscow.
Another Navalny lawyer, Vadim Kobzev, has suggested that he is currently being held in an isolation cell at the prisoner hospital, which is said to specialize in treating tuberculosis. Kobzev said on Twitter that the Kremlin critic received a drop of glucose.
Navalny’s allies also reiterated their intention to take to the streets on Wednesday evening.
Pro-Navalny protests banned
Authorities have warned people not to participate in planned protests, which will coincide with Russian President Vladimir Putin’s annual State of the Nation address.
The Kremlin denounced the gatherings as illegal, paving the way for a confrontation between police and protesters and raising the possibility of another episode of mass arrests.
National pro-Navalny protests earlier this year resulted in the detention of thousands of his supporters.
In Moscow, the mayor’s office said a planned protest would not be allowed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Authorities have said downtown Yekaterinburg in the Urals will be closed to traffic from early in the evening due to a repeat of the military parade.
In an apparent attempt to deter protesters further, police raided Navalny regional offices in the southern city of Krasnodar and central Chelyabinsk region, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors protests and detentions of activists.
Five pro-Navalny activists in different regions were arrested on various charges, he said.
Navalny’s activist network faces increasing pressure from Russian authorities.
Moscow prosecutors on Friday said they wanted to label its regional groups and its anti-corruption foundation “extremists,” a move that would essentially ban their activities.
Human rights activists say the designation would cripple their activities and expose their members and donors to prison terms of up to 10 years.
US and EU try to put pressure on Moscow
Navalny’s case also plunged relations between Moscow and the West to post-Cold War lows.
The European Union and the United States have urged Russian authorities to grant Navalny immediate access to medical treatment, while U.S. President Joe Biden’s White House said on Monday that Moscow would be held to account for his plight.
These comments were echoed by senior European diplomat Josep Borrell, who said the bloc held Russian authorities “responsible” for the “health situation” in Navalny.
Washington and Brussels have also called for Navalny’s release from prison.
The Kremlin critic was arrested in January upon his return from Germany to Russia, where he spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he attributes to Russian officials.
The Kremlin denies such allegations.
In February, he was sentenced to two and a half years in prison for violating the conditions of his probation while recovering in Germany. Navalny dismissed the case against him as fabricated.
Russia has dismissed foreign calls for his release as foreign interference in its internal affairs.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Tuesday that Navalny’s case fell under the state prison service or the prosecutor’s office.