Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been poisoned by an “unknown chemical agent”, while serving a prison sentence for encouraging people to take part in a pro-democracy protest, his lawyer and doctor said on Monday.
Navalny, a prominent critic of president Vladimir Putin’s regime, was rushed to hospital from a detention centre on Sunday after suffering from a severe allergic reaction.
He was discharged on Monday afternoon and escorted back to the detention centre, despite protests from his longtime doctor, Anastasiya Vasilyeva.
“It scares me and it is alarming that there are no attempts to find out what the substance was. Alexei himself also believes that it was some kind of toxic agent,” Ms Vasilyeva told reporters after leaving the hospital.
“He has not fully recovered. He should have been left under medical supervision,” she added. “Who is going to watch over him at the detention facility?”
Both Ms Vasilyeva and Olga Mikhailova, Navalny’s lawyer, said the source of the potential poison was not clear. Navalny was sharing a cell and food with five other inmates who were not affected.
Navalny is the face of grassroots opposition to Mr Putin’s two-decades long regime and is no stranger to prison time or threats to his life.
His organisation of mass protests against the Kremlin saw him banned from competing against Mr Putin in the 2018 election, hit by countless convictions and incarcerations and the victim of a 2017 chemical attack by a pro-Kremlin activist that left him partially blind in one eye.
He was sentenced to 30 days in jail last Wednesday for encouraging people to attend a protest calling for opposition politicians to be allowed to run in Moscow’s upcoming local elections.
Despite the pre-emptive detention of Navalny and five other prominent opposition activists, thousands of people attempted to join the demonstrations on Saturday but were met with a violent crackdown from riot police, who beat protesters with batons and arrested more than 1,400 in a sign of the Kremlin’s desire to crush a tide of popular discontent that has risen in recent months.
Some opposition figures have called for more protests this weekend despite the violent response from police that has been condemned by the US, EU and UK.
“The Russian government continues to disregard the rights of its people to freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly,” the British Foreign Office said in a statement.
Mr Putin has not commented on the protests or Navalny’s detention. The head of the president’s Human Rights Council, Mikhail Fedotov, said he would assist Navalny if he had complaints about his hospital treatment.
“I believe doctors at the hospital have to ensure proper medical attention. Otherwise, they would be violating the Hippocratic oath and the law,” Mr Fedotov told local newswire Interfax. “I can’t imagine that they might not provide Navalny with aid on political grounds.”