Kremlin critic Navalny suffers ‘allergic reaction’ in custody, supporters suspect foul play

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Aleksey Navalny, a Russian opposition activist currently serving a 30-day sentence, was taken to the hospital on Sunday. Doctors say he had an acute allergic reaction, but some believe he may have been poisoned.

The prominent protest organizer is currently under administrative arrest, to which he was sentenced last Wednesday for calling on supporters to take part in an unsanctioned rally. On Sunday morning, Navalny was moved to a nearby hospital from the detention facility where he is serving his term, after developing a rash and swelling on his face.

The activist was diagnosed with an acute “allergic reaction”, Dr. Eldar Kazakhmedov, who works in the therapeutic ward where Navalny was placed, told Interfax. Kazakhmedov said that the medics couldn’t immediately say what caused it.

Navalny’s lawyer, Olga Mikhailova, told reporters that the opposition activist was diagnosed with “contact dermatitis” by the hospital, which conducted toxicology tests, but the results have not arrived yet.

“I am not a doctor. I see that the cause is not determined, that everything is done for the swelling to disappear,” Mikhailova said. “The swelling is practically gone but it is not clear what will happen next, how his body will react. It is, in fact, a poisoning by an unknown chemical substance. What is it, where was it? Nobody can answer that, it has not been established by now.”

Anastasia Vasilyeva, a fellow activist and professional ophthalmologist who treated Navalny two years ago after his eyes were injured by green dye thrown at him by an assailant, sounded the alarm about the case. On Facebook, she said she went to the hospital and saw him “through the door” but was not allowed to examine him, alleging foul play could be behind his health problems.

Vasilyeva said she “cannot exclude a toxic injury of the skin by an unknown chemical substance administered by a ‘third person,’” after seeing him. She believes that the diagnosis came too soon, apparently before toxicology tests could be performed.

Vasilyeva branded the chief doctor of the hospital a government loyalist and said hospital staff and police guards were acting suspiciously. She added that she collected Navalny’s T-shirt and hair samples, which will be sent for independent testing and urged law enforcement to do the same.

The theory prompted some of Navalny’s supporters to stage a rally in front of the hospital on Sunday evening. After being called in, police told them to disperse since they were disturbing medics and patients. Some people were reportedly detained after refusing to leave, and were released later in the night.

Navalny’s condition improved over the day, according to doctors working at the hospital, as well as journalist Maria Lekukh, who said she spoke with him for about five minutes on Sunday.

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On Monday morning, Vasilyeva was granted permission to examine Navalny in the hospital. She confirmed that his health improved, but protested the decision to release him back to the detention facility, saying whatever caused the illness may affect him again there. She argued that the incident provides grounds to appeal his administrative arrest.

The chief doctor of the therapeutic ward where Navalny was treated later gave a brief update on his condition, saying his life was not at risk. Yelena Sibikina suggested asking him for details since patient information is protected. She explained that Vasilyeva didn’t gain immediate access to Navalny’s records on Saturday because the consent forms he signed when checking in authorized the medics to only share what they learned about his health with his wife.

The head of the Russian Presidential Council on Human Rights, Mikhail Fedotov, said his office is ready to step in if “Navalny has complaints” about his treatment.

Navalny’s health troubles happened a day after clashes between Moscow police and opposition activists who tried to stage an unsanctioned rally in the Russian capital. The event was called by Navalny a week earlier. A court sentenced him to 30 days in detention last Wednesday. Over 1000 people were arrested during the skirmishes, while police also took a beating.

The 43-year-old is a veteran opposition politician who made his name by exposing alleged corruption among government officials and top state-owned companies. Navalny and his team have organized a number of mass anti-government protests in Russia over the years. Many of them, like the one on Saturday, violated Russian laws on mass gatherings and resulted in arrests of activists and leaders.

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