Alexei Navalny: why is the Putin opposition leader on a hunger strike in jail - and Russia protests explained

Thousands of people have taken to the streets in support of Navalny, calling for him to receive proper medical treatment

Alexei Navalny: why is the Putin opposition leader on a hunger strike in jail - and Russia protests explained (Photo by Omer Messinger/Getty Images)

Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is in a grave condition after being on hunger strike for three weeks.

Navalny was sent to prison in January upon his return to Russia from Germany, after he had fled Russia to receive treatment and recover from being poisoned.

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Protests are ongoing in the country, and the treatment of Vladimir Putin’s main political rival is ramping up tensions between Russia and the West.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Navalny is the main figurehead of opposition to Putin’s rule in Russia, despite being yet to face him in an election.

A 44-year old blogger with millions of followers on social media, Navalny’s primary focus is on corruption in the country.

His organisation, FBK, has published a number of reports and investigations, making serious allegations of fraud and corruption among the ruling party, and by Putin himself.

Why is he in prison?

Navalny was convicted in a complicated fraud case involving embezzlement in 2014, and received a three-and-a-half year sentence alongside his brother, Oleg Navalny, although Alexei’s was suspended.

The conviction was condemned by the European Court of Human Rights, but was upheld by the Russian Supreme Court.

One of the conditions of his suspended sentence was to report to a police station regularly, which Navalny claims he did, until he was incapacitated as a result of being poisoned and receiving treatment in Germany.

Navalny collapsed while on a flight in Siberia in August 2020, and was rushed to hospital in Omsk before being airlifted to Germany to receive treatment, where medics confirmed he had been poisoned with the nerve-agent, Novichok.

The Russian state denies any involvement in the poisoning, while Navalny himself says the attack was ordered by Putin himself.

Last year Navalny carried out a ‘telephone sting’ on a Russian intelligence agent, in which it was revealed that Novichok was smeared on Navalny’s underwear.

Why are there protests?

More than 1000 people have so far been arrested in the country following protests in support of Navalny.

Though protest is currently prohibited, supporters of the jailed activist have taken to the streets in significant number across the country to protest his captivity.

They are calling for him to receive suitable medical attention while he is being held.

Wednesday saw the most people take to the streets since Navalny was sent to prison, with police reporting around 26,000 people protesting, though monitoring groups say the true number is likely much higher.

Speaking earlier in the week, Russia’s interior minister said: "Any aggressive actions by participants in unauthorised public meetings, especially attempts to provoke clashes with law enforcement officials, will be regarded as a threat to public safety and immediately suppressed.”

What is Navalny’s condition now?

Since being put in prison, Navalny’s health has deteriorated, with claims that he is suffering severe back pain and numbness in his hands and feet.

Navalny claimed that he was not receiving treatment for his conditions, and was subjected to sleep deprivation, while his doctors have said he could die at any minute.

He is thought to be at heightened risk of cardiac arrest and liver failure according to his doctors, who have been refused access to him and have only seen the results of tests carried out by prison medical staff.

Navalny began a hunger strike last month as a result of the conditions he is being held in, and has since been moved from a prison to a penal colony which reportedly has more medical facilities.

He is demanding that his own doctors be allowed to treat him, and a number of western media outlets, politicians and celebrities have come out in support of the jailed campaigner.

Navalny has claimed that staff where he is being held are preparing to force-feed him as a result of his worsening conditions, while government sources say he will begin receiving “vitamin treatment” by his consent.His wife said he has lost more than 20 pounds since beginning his hunger strike on 30 March,