POKROV, Russia – The rude medical treatment Aleksei A. Navalny, a leader of the Russian opposition, receives in prison poses a lethal risk to his health, his personal physician told reporters on Tuesday. Later, the doctor was arrested along with several journalists.
Navalny, the main political opponent of President Vladimir V. Putin, is 44 years old and survived a poisoning with a military nerve agent last summer that Western governments called an assassination attempt by the Kremlin, which has denied any role.
In January, he voluntarily returned to Russia after receiving treatment in Germany. Upon arrival, he was arrested at the airport for a probation violation related to a 2014 suspended sentence.
In recent weeks, Navalny has experienced back pain and numbness in his legs, according to his social media accounts, which they post under his name with information he relays to attorneys. Attorneys said in a recent interview that they suspect these conditions are persistent symptoms of poisoning or are the result of a herniated spinal disc.
Navalny has also been on a hunger strike for almost a week because of what his social media accounts describe as the fact that prison officials did not provide him with sufficient medical care.
Additionally, prison doctors said Monday that Navalny was showing signs of a respiratory illness. According to state media, he was transferred to an infirmary on the premises of the penal colony where he is serving a sentence of more than two years for the violation of probation.
Navalny’s temperature soared to 100.5 degrees Fahrenheit and she had what she described in a social media post as a severe cough.
One obvious possibility, the coronavirus, which is known to spread easily in prisons, has not been diagnosed. Authorities have examined Mr. Navalny for the virus, the Izvestia newspaper reported. Navalny said in a social media post that he suspected tuberculosis, a common contagion in Russian prisons.
Anastasia Vasilyeva, her personal physician, told reporters Tuesday that she was “very concerned about her health, about what may happen to her health tomorrow.”
“I understand very clearly from the symptoms he has now that it can lead to a very serious condition, and even death,” he said at a checkpoint on a muddy road outside Pokrov Penitentiary, about 60 miles east. from Moscow. after the guards declined his request to examine Mr. Navalny. “This is a crazy violation of human rights.”
The refusal to allow access was expected. Ms Vasilyeva, who runs a political opposition medical workers organization, the Alianza de Médicos, appeared outside the prison with half a dozen medical colleagues to demonstrate the authorities’ refusal to allow access to specialized care.
With their white coats fluttering in an icy wind, the medics were milling about the desolate place.
The prison, Penal Colony No. 2 in the Vladimir Region, is surrounded by an icy swamp. Doctors said they intended to hold a regular protest at the scene, in view of the coiled barbed wire in the prison wall, until Navalny receives proper treatment. Prison authorities say they provide adequate care.
“We do not plan to withdraw,” Vasilyeva said. “We will come tomorrow, and the day after, until they let us in and we can understand what’s going on with Aleksei.”
But after their action on Tuesday, the police detained Ms Vasilyeva, several other doctors and journalists, including a CNN correspondent, Matthew Chance. Later, Mr. Chance was released.
After the chemical weapons poisoning, Mr. Navalny was evacuated to Germany for treatment. The German government said it had discovered traces of Novichok, an exotic nerve agent that can be lethal to the touch and is known to have been made only in Russia and previously in the Soviet Union.
The poison was also used in the 2018 assassination attempt on a double agent, Sergei Skripal, in Britain, according to the British government.
“There is nothing difficult to understand here,” Ivan Tumanov, director of the Navalny movement in the Vladimir region, said in an interview Tuesday about Navalny’s worsening health. “Putin wants Navalny dead, so he does not allow doctors to visit him.”
Supporters say prison authorities have also resorted to petty harassment. Near Navalny, who is now on hunger strike, they have been roasting chicken, Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman said Tuesday.
Navalny’s team suggested that one of the main concerns now is tuberculosis. While it is mostly a past threat in developed countries and can be treated in its usual way with antibiotics, the disease is a persistent killer in Russian prisons.
Thin, exhausted men fill the wards with tuberculosis. And harsh conditions have spawned new strains unique to Russian penal colonies, alarming global health experts for years.
In trying to spend time in the infirmary to avoid violence from other inmates, inmates sometimes purposely try to get sick or extend the duration of their illness by refusing to take the full course of antibiotics or exchanging saliva.
The result, infectious disease experts say, is a proliferation of antibiotic-resistant forms of tuberculosis.
Social media accounts of Mr. Navalny said monday that three inmates of his barracks had been hospitalized for tuberculosis.