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Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny goes on hunger strike

By Kyle Barnett
Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny goes on hunger strike
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has gone on a hunger strike demanding medical care in prison. File photo by Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE

March 31 (UPI) -- Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny announced he is going on a hunger strike, demanding medical care for back pain.

The Kremlin critic's Instagram account posted a handwritten letter delivering his protest in humorous fashion.

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"I have the right to call a doctor and get medications. They give me neither one nor the other. The back pain has moved to the leg. Parts of my right leg and now of my left leg have lost sensitivity. Jokes aside, but this is already annoying," he posted, according to The Independent.

The Kremlin shot back a response noting hunger was preferable to the loss of the use of his limbs, the Independent reported.

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A longtime political opponent of President Vladmir Putin, who has held power for 21 years, Navalny, 44, is an attorney, activist and leader of the Progress Party.

Navalny is jailed at the Pokrov prison colony, where he is suffering from a pinched nerve in his back.

He was imprisoned two months ago, just after returning from medical care in Germany following an assassination attempt last fall that left him in a coma and from which he is still recovering. Agents from Russia's Federal Security Service have been blamed for the assassination attempt.

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Navalny's lawyers maintain that his health is deteriorating quickly and they fear for his life, adding that the pain has affected his ability to walk.

The situation is exacerbated by the alleged "sleep torture" in which Navalny says he is awoken eight times a night.

Navalny alleges the administration is in cahoots with activist convicts or "goats," intimidating ordinary convicts so "they do not clean around my bed," he said.

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A group of Russian doctors initiated an online petition urging prison authorities to allow the opposition figure an opportunity to be seen by doctors outside of prison.

Russia is notorious for its harsh prison system. Countless inmates' deaths were linked to harsh circumstances, and several prominent cases reveal that medical attention may be deliberately withheld.

Many believe Navalny's sentence is politically motivated.The Russian Federal Penitentiary Service released a statement saying Navalny and other prisoners have been given medical examinations.

Russian state media outlet Tass reported that Navalny is "in generally good and stable health."

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