Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition politician, is grappling with severe stomach pain in jail that could be some sort of slow-acting poison, his spokeswoman said on Thursday.
An ambulance was called for Navalny overnight from Friday to Saturday to the maximum security IK-6 penal colony at Melekhovo, about 250 km (115 miles) east of Moscow, where he is being held. Kira Yarmysh, his spokeswoman, told Reuters.
Navalny was suffering from severe stomach pain, she said, and could not eat the prison food provided to him because it was making his pain worse and since Monday has been banned from buying alternative food.
"He doesn’t eat anything because he is prohibited from receiving parcels with food or buying food in the prison store and the food that is provided by the prison to him actually worsens his stomach pain," Yarmysh said in English.
"His health is not a good condition," she said. "We can't rule out the idea that he is being poisoned, not in a huge dosage as before, but in small ones so that he doesn't die immediately but for him to suffer and to ruin his health."
Yarmysh said there was no definitive proof of the poisoning theory but that he had never had such stomach pains before. She said she was terrified for him because there was almost no contact with him and he was not receiving proper medical care.
When asked about claims that Navalny might be being slowly poisoned, the Kremlin said it was not following the state of his health and that it was a matter for the federal penitentiary service.
The penitentiary service, which has in the past denied allegations that its employees have mistreated Navalny and has said he has always been afforded medical treatment when needed, did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
Navalny, who is serving combined sentences of 11-1/2 years for fraud and contempt of court on charges he says were trumped up to silence him, said via Twitter on Tuesday that he had been moved back into solitary confinement and forced to endure "extremely hellish" conditions.
Yarmysh said he had suffered similar stomach pain in January after being treated with antibiotics for a virus and had again lost a lot of weight.
The German government said on Wednesday it was very worried about Navalny's worsening health condition. Reuters could not independently verify the state of Navalny's health.
Navalny is a former lawyer who rose to prominence more than a decade ago by lampooning President Vladimir Putin's elite and voicing allegations of corruption on a vast scale. Navalny's supporters cast him as a Russian version of South Africa's Nelson Mandela who will one day be freed from jail to lead the country.
Conversely, Russian authorities view him and his supporters as extremists with links to the U.S. CIA intelligence agency intent on trying to destabilize Russia. They have outlawed his movement, forcing many of his followers to flee abroad.
In 2020, Navalny survived an apparent attempt to poison him during a flight in Siberia, with what Western laboratory tests determined was a nerve agent. Navalny accused the Russian state of trying to kill him, something it denied.
He was treated for that poisoning in Germany but voluntarily returned to Russia in 2021, where he was arrested on arrival and jailed.
Yarmysh said medicine sent to Navalny's prison by his mother was not collected by prison officials from the post office and was returned. He should be afforded proper medical care, she said.
His supporters had to battle with the prison authorities every time he fell ill to ensure he received some kind of treatment, she said.
"He is in total isolation and we do not know what is happening to him," she said. "I am actually terrified because no one knows what is happening."
"Putin has no red lines," said Yarmysh. "He is an innocent man and only in prison due to Putin's personal hatred."
Russia says he was found guilty in a court of law and that claims of any personal hatred are unfounded.