Protesters call for medical attention for Russian prisoner Alexei Navalny at demo in Germany

Protesters supporting Alexei Navalny in Hanover, Germany

Alexei Navalny is a Russian anti-corruption activist and opposition politician. He’s currently in prison, and on hunger strike. And this week, protesters both inside and outside of Russia showed concern for his health by hitting the streets. On 21 April, Phoenix Media Co-op spoke to some attendees at one such demonstration in Hanover, Germany.

Who is Navalny?

In 2018, Navalny ran for president against the incumbent Vladimir Putin. In August 2020, he was reportedly poisoned, but survived. As the Associated Press notes, Navalny blames the government for this, but “Russian officials have denied any involvement and even questioned whether Navalny was poisoned”. He recovered in Germany, and then returned to Russia, where he was sentenced to prison on contestable grounds.

His health has been deteriorating in prison, and authorities have prevented him from seeing his doctors. This is why Navalny has been on hunger strike for three weeks.

Some of Navalny’s views are highly problematic, like his stance on immigration. And media outlets rarely mention his far-right past, elements of which he has reportedly failed to renounce. There is also criticism of Western governments and mainstream media obsessing over Navalny while largely ignoring the political persecution and imprisonment of people like Julian Assange.

Many protesters whom Phoenix Media Co-op spoke to on 21 April expressed concern over the lack of due process and corruption within Russia, while not necessarily endorsing all of Navalny’s political platform. They wanted authorities to free him or allow him to see his doctors.

21 April protests

Amid international protests on 21 April, Phoenix Media Co-op asked demonstrators in Hanover why they were there. One man said:

I find that I disagree with internal politics of Russia on many points, especially on lack of due process during the judicial hearings which leads to all kinds of oppressive and plain inhuman behaviours. It is really sad to see that this has become a commonplace thing in Russian society. …

This is why I am here. I am deeply opposed, I am against it. I feel that as a citizen of Russia, even though I live in Germany, it is something that I have to do. I’m probably not enjoying it the most standing outside in the windy weather getting cold, but it’s something that needs to be done.

Another protester, Svetlana Makhokhei, is a journalist and someone who has previously worked with Navalny. She stressed that:

I am here… to support him and to support all of my colleagues and all people in Russia to fight against corruption, against Putin’s system and against all this violation of basic human rights.

And regarding what she wanted other countries to do about Navalny’s situation, she said:

They should press the Russian government as much as they can, not only German government, all actually. Then, more people will call Putin and ask every day: ‘Hey, what’s going on with Navalny? Hey, when you will allow at least doctors to check him?’ Then, faster, I hope, he will allow doctor[s] to visit him.

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Worsening health

As the Associated Press reports, “Russia’s state penitentiary service has said that Navalny is receiving all the medical help he needs”. At the start of the week, authorities transferred Navalny to a prison hospital. After visiting his client, Navalny’s lawyer said “the situation is only getting worse”.

Main article image via Slava Zilber, for Phoenix Media Co-op
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