Thousands of supporters of the imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny crowded into nationwide demonstrations in central Moscow on Wednesday demanding his freedom when UN experts warned that the life of the Kremlin critic was in “serious danger”.
More than 400 people were arrested across the country in connection with the protests, according to a human rights group. Dozens were arrested before the protests began, including two senior Navalny officials in Moscow.
Supporters of President Vladimir Putin’s most outspoken opponent fear that he may die soon and are demanding adequate medical care.
Officials say he was treated like any other convict and warned that Wednesday’s rallies are illegal.
Thousands of Navalny supporters took to the streets of the capital Moscow [Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters]Navalny’s team called the unsanctioned demonstrations after reports that his health was deteriorating during the hunger strike he started on March 31.
“The situation with Alexei is indeed critical and we have postponed the day of the mass protests,” Vladimir Ashurkov, a close ally of Navalny and executive director of the Anti-Corruption Foundation, told The Associated Press.
“Alexei’s health has deteriorated a lot and he is in pretty critical condition. Doctors say that after his test (the results) he should be admitted to the intensive care unit. “
UN human rights experts on Wednesday called on Russia to allow the detained Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to be detained abroad. They feared that his life was in “serious danger”.
Navalny was held in harsh conditions in a high-security penal colony and “denied access to adequate medical care,” conditions that could lead to torture in Saint Petersburg, Russia on April 21, 2021, a statement said.
“We urge the Russian authorities to ensure that Mr Navalny has access to his own doctors and that he can be evacuated abroad for urgent medical treatment, as was the case in August 2020,” said the UN experts, which include torture mandates and the right to freedom of expression.
Navalny’s organization urged Moscow protesters to gather in Manezh Square outside the Kremlin walls, but police blocked them.
Instead, large crowds gathered at the nearby Russian State Library and another lined Tverskaya Street, a main street that leads to the square.
In St. Petersburg, police blocked Palace Square, the huge space in front of the Hermitage, and protesters instead crowded along nearby Nevsky Prospect.
The OVD-Info group, which monitors protests and detentions, reported 413 arrests in 60 cities.
Police are blocking the street during a protest in support of the imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny in St. Petersburg [Dmitri Lovetsky/AP Photo]Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh and close ally Lyubov Sobol were arrested near their homes in Moscow before a rally in the Russian capital was to take place in a square near the Kremlin.
Meanwhile, in the Far East of Russia, around 200 to 300 people came out to support Navalny in the city of Vladivostok. Some of them carried banners reading “Freedom for Political Prisoners” and “No War, Repression and Torture!”
“Everyone realizes that the current authorities cannot propose anything new for the country. We need a new generation of politicians. I see Navalny as one of them, “Ilya, a 19-year-old student, was quoted by Reuters news agency.
There, the protesters moved to a square at the train station when a line of police cars had been brought into the central square where they were about to gather.
European Council President Charles Michel said it was “regrettable” that Navalny’s closest allies had been taken into custody prior to the protests.
Another Navalny adjutant, Ruslan Shaveddinov, tweeted: “They are currently arresting potential protesters across Russia. That is oppression. This cannot be accepted. We have to fight this darkness. “
The 44-year-old Navalny was arrested in January after returning from Germany, where he had been recovering for five months from nerve agent poisoning, which he accuses the Kremlin. Russian officials have denied the allegation.
Shortly thereafter, a court found that Navalny’s long stay in Germany was in breach of a suspended sentence for embezzlement in 2014 and ordered him to serve two and a half years in prison.
Navalny went on hunger strike to protest the prison officials’ refusal to see his doctors when he began to experience severe back pain and loss of sensation in his legs. The correctional service said Navalny had all the medical help he needed.
Navalny’s doctor, Dr. Yaroslav Ashikhmin recently said that the test results he received from Navalny’s family showed severely elevated levels of potassium, which can lead to cardiac arrest, and elevated levels of creatinine, which is indicative of kidney dysfunction and “can die at any time.”
He was taken to a hospital in another prison on Sunday and was given a drop of glucose. Prison officials refused attempts by his doctors to visit him there.