he Russian state is making a slow spectacle of crushing Alexey Navalny and his organization. The opposition politician is in prison, serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence for “violating his parole” while he recovered from a near-fatal poisoning attack by his own government. Last week, Navalny’s lawyers and his wife, Yulia, said that he has developed health problems for which prison authorities are denying adequate treatment. He is also facing torture by sleep deprivation. (The prison service has denied mistreating Navalny.) On Wednesday, Navalny declared a hunger strike. Meanwhile, Navalny’s allies are planning new demonstrations to demand his release. Dozens of people around Russia are still in jail after being arrested in connection with pro-Navalny demonstrations that took place in January and February. Over the weekend, authorities arrested Yuri Zhdanov, the father of Ivan Zhdanov, who heads Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation.
“Everyone who knows Alexey knows that he never complains,” Yulia Navalnaya wrote, on Instagram. “He tolerates pain in silence and makes jokes.” She wrote that Navalny had developed back pain a month earlier, while he was in jail in Moscow: “Ever since, he’s been in his current ‘friendly concentration camp,’ ” a term that Navalny has used to characterize the prison colony. She added, “He’s been asking for pain relievers. A doctor who specializes in back problems wrote out on a piece of paper a set of special exercises that can be used to reduce pain. But these bastards not only won’t give him pain relievers or let a doctor come in and examine him but they even took the notes with these exercises away from the lawyer and won’t give them to Alexey.”
Navalny has been writing about his experiences in prison, and the entries are posted on his social-media accounts: “If you kept an eye on my court hearings, you might have noticed that I never sat down in the defendant box and spent hours pacing. That’s because I could either stand or lie down.” He wrote that he had been asking for medical help in the prison colony, mostly in vain. “It got to the point where it’s hard to get up from the bed, and it hurts a lot. . . . A week ago, the prison doctor saw me and started dispensing two ibuprofen pills [per day] but did not tell me what my diagnosis is.” He has started losing the use of his right leg. “If I place my weight on my right leg, I fall right down. That’s a little disturbing. I’ve got used to my right leg lately, and I’d hate to lose it.” Just months ago, Navalny relearned how to walk while recovering from exposure to the nerve agent Novichok. He joked about ambling around the prison colony on a wooden leg and speaking in quotations from “Treasure Island.” On Wednesday, Navalny wrote that he had developed numbness in his left leg, as well.
Navalny has also written about the many violations for which he has been cited since the start of his incarceration. He said that the colony’s seven-person disciplinary committee is currently reviewing some twenty reports of his alleged violations, including “getting up from bed ten minutes before the order to get up” and refusing “to go outside for morning exercises, saying to prison officer, ‘Let’s go grab a cup of coffee instead.’ ” He said he also reportedly “refused to watch a video lecture and called it idiotic” and “wore a T-shirt to a meeting with his lawyer.” He added, “I’m anticipating a citation that says, ‘was smiling broadly when the schedule prescribed suffering.’ “
When Navalny first arrived at the prison colony, he wrote that he was awakened every hour of every night. “I wake up because a man in uniform is standing by my bed. He is filming me, using a video camera and narrating, ‘Two-thirty, Inmate Navalny. Prophylactic check-in for escape risk. On location.’ And then I go back to sleep, knowing that there are people who are thinking about me and will never lose track of me.” Whatever levity Navalny brings to his accounts of his imprisonment, the impression they leave is of a man being tortured by sleep deprivation and refusal of medical care.
When Navalny returned to Russia, on January 17th – from Germany, where he had been recovering from the aftereffects of the poisoning – he knew he was likely to be arrested on trumped-up charges, but said that he did not want to become “just another political émigré”. Other leaders of his organization have been living in exile, in order to stay out of Russian prisons. On Monday, Ivan Zhdanov, the head of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that his father, a retired civil servant, had been arrested, ostensibly because, in 2019, he allegedly recommended a family for subsidized housing who may not have qualified. “My father is sixty-six years old and has many medical conditions,” Ivan Zhdanov wrote, on Facebook. “I don’t think he can get out of pre-trial detention without losing what remains of his health, if he survives at all. . . . They will sink lower only if they start killing children for what their fathers do. They’ve already started killing fathers for their children’s actions. . . . I’m not going to lie, this is the most terrifying thing that could have happened to me.”
Last week, Leonid Volkov, who runs the Anti-Corruption Foundation’s organizing arm, announced a plan to hold mass protests demanding Navalny’s release. Past protests have been largely spontaneous, but this one is asking people to register; once half a million people have pledged to take part, the organization will announce dates and locations for demonstrations. The Anti-Corruption Foundation has created a page showing those who have registered in cities and towns around Russia. Putting oneself on the map takes courage – eleven thousand people were detained during winter protests, and dozens were chosen, seemingly at random, to be prosecuted. Everyone knows what happens to leaders like Zhdanov, and to Navalny himself, who has the eyes of the world on him. Still, so far, more than three hundred and fifty thousand Russians have said that they will risk their own safety to try to save Navalny.
The source: The New Yorker