Kremlin critic Navalny has 'recovered' after hunger strike: Russian prisons chief

MOSCOW (AFP) – Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has “recovered” after he ended a 24-day hunger strike last month demanding adequate medical treatment, the head of Russia’s prison service said Thursday (May 20).

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s best known domestic critic, is serving two-and-a-half years in a penal colony outside Moscow on old fraud charges he says are politically motivated.

The 44-year-old opposition figure went on hunger strike at the end of March demanding proper treatment behind bars for severe back pain and numbness in his limbs. He ended the protest on April 23 after receiving treatment at a civilian hospital.

His last public appearance was by video link in court during an appeal hearing at the end of April, where he appeared thin and said he had started eating a couple spoonfuls of porridge a day.

On Thursday, news agency TASS quoted the head of Russia’s Federal Prison Service, Alexander Kalashnikov, as saying that Navalny “has recovered, more or less”.

“His weight is already up to 82 kilograms (180 pounds), I think,” Kalashnikov told journalists, adding that Navalny is “eating normally”.

Navalny’s spokespersons and lawyers were not immediately available for comment. The Kremlin critic has not made a statement since early this month.

His allies have said that Navalny weighed 93 kilograms when he arrived in prison in February, but that the figure had already fallen to 85 kilograms by the time he launched his hunger strike.

His wife Yulia in mid-April said that his weight was down to 76kg.

The update on Navalny’s health comes as Russia moves to outlaw his movement.

Next month a court will begin hearing whether to add his network of regional offices and Anti-Corruption Foundation (FBK) to a list of “terrorist and extremist” organisations.

In a move targeting his supporters, Russia’s lower house of parliament on Tuesday approved legislation in a first reading that would ban members of “extremist” organisations from becoming lawmakers.

Since Navalny returned to Russia in January from Germany, where he had been recovering from a poisoning attack he blames on Putin, most of his top allies have been placed under house arrest or left the country.

Several announced publicly they were quitting the FBK after prosecutors requested the extremism tag.

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