Kremlin dismisses call from Navalny’s wife to free jailed critic for medical reasons

FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia Navalnaya are seen on board a plane during a flight from Berlin to Moscow
FILE PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia Navalnaya are seen on board a plane during a flight from Berlin to Moscow, January 17, 2021. REUTERS/Maria Vasilyeva/

March 26, 2021

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday it would ignore a call by jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny’s wife to have her husband freed to receive urgent medical treatment and said his prison conditions could be worse.

Navalny, one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics, said on Thursday that being woken up by a guard every hour during the night amounted to torture and that an appeal to be treated for acute back and leg pain had been refused in a deliberate attempt to run him down.

Yulia Navalnaya, his wife, called on Putin to free her husband so he could be treated by doctors he trusted.

But Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday the Kremlin would be leaving her appeal without a response since such matters were handled by the federal prison service.

Asked about Navalny’s allegation of torture by sleep deprivation, Peskov said that Russian citizens held in foreign prisons faced much harsher situations.

“Some of them have been convicted without reason and illegally,” he said.

“These various examples of discipline in prisons in other countries are often linked to much more crude and inhumane treatment,” said Peskov.

Navalny was jailed last month for two and a half years on charges he called politically motivated. He was arrested as he returned to Russia from Germany in January, where he had been recovering from what doctors said was a nerve agent poisoning.

Nabila Massrali, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, said the reports of Navalny’s worsening health were worrying.

“Russia authorities must give @navalny access to medical care,” she tweeted.

Agnes Callamard, U.N. special rapporteur on summary killings whose investigation blamed Russia for last year trying to kill Navalny, something it has denied, said reports of Navalny’s deteriorating health were “profoundly disturbing”.

“This same Russia is now imprisoning him, arbitrarily in conditions amounting to ill treatment or worse,” she wrote on Twitter.

(Reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Andrew Osborn in Moscow and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn)