Alexei Navalny to end prison hunger strike

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny says he is ending his hunger strike after getting medical attention and being warned by his doctors that continuing it would be life-threatening.

Navalny cited 'progress' after being examined by non-prison doctors following 3-week hunger strike

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny sits in a cage during a prison hearing on his charges for defamation in the Babuskinsky District Court in Moscow on Feb. 12. (Babuskinsky District Court Press Service/The Associated Press)

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny says he is ending his hunger strike after getting medical attention and being warned by his doctors that continuing it would put his life at risk.

In an Instagram post on Friday, the 24th day of his hunger strike, Navalny said he will continue to demand a visit from his doctor to address a loss of sensation in his legs and arms — the main demand the politician announced when he launched his hunger strike.

But he said he would stop the strike after having been examined by non-prison doctors, something he called "a huge progress."

"Thanks to the huge support of good people across the country and around the world, we have made huge progress," Navalny said in his message. "Two months ago, my requests for medical help were prompting smirks. I wasn't given any medications....Thanks to you, now I have been examined by a [group] of civilian doctors twice."

Another reason he was ending the hunger strike was that some of his supporters were refusing to eat in solidarity with him, Navalny said.

"Tears flowed from my eyes when I read that. God, I'm not even acquainted with these people, and they do this for me," said the 44-year-old politician, who is one of President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critics. "Friends, my heart is full of love and gratitude for you, but I don't want anyone physically suffering because of me."

Navalny said he would start "coming out of the hunger strike" on Friday and the process of ending it will take 24 days.

The process will not be easy, his close ally Lyubov Sobol said in a Facebook post.

"Very difficult days of coming out of starvation will come now. I know myself," wrote Sobol, who spent 32 days on a hunger strike in 2019.

"The first week of coming out is essentially the same hunger strike: You're not allowed to eat anything, just drink juices and very thin porridges, in very little amounts," she said.

A lack of access to normal food and fresh produce in prison complicates the situation.

Serving 2 1/2-year prison sentence

The 44-year-old politician, who was arrested earlier this year and is serving a 2 ½-year sentence, began the hunger strike on March 31 to protest prison authorities' refusal to let his doctors visit after he developed severe back pain and numbness in his legs.

Officials insisted Navalny was getting all the medical help he needs, but Navalny said he received effectively no treatment.

WATCH | Russians hold anti-Putin protests earlier this week:

Over 1,000 protesters reportedly arrested by Russian police

8 months ago
Duration 0:45
Thousands of people across Russia marched Wednesday in support of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, fearing he may die while on a hunger strike. A human rights group said nearly 1,500 people were arrested. 0:45

On Wednesday night, another round of mass protests demanding his freedom swept across Russia. A top aide said Wednesday night's protests seemed to have brought a compromise from Russian authorities on getting Navalny the medical help he had demanded when launching the hunger strike.

The next day, a team of his doctors released a letter urging him to end his hunger strike.

The doctors said they would continue to insist on access to Navalny but also urged him "to immediately stop the hunger strike in order to save life and health," saying that they considered being examined by "civilian" doctors from outside the prison and undergoing "objective tests" enough to end the strike.

Last week, his doctors expressed concern over Navalny's sharply elevated levels of potassium, which can bring on cardiac arrest, and heightened creatinine levels that indicated impaired kidneys.

Navalny was arrested in January upon his return from Germany, where he had spent five months recovering from a nerve agent poisoning he blames on the Kremlin — accusations that Russian officials reject.

Last week, the Moscow prosecutor's office petitioned a court to label Navalny's Foundation for Fighting Corruption and his network of regional offices extremist groups. Human rights activists say such a move would paralyze their activities and expose their members and donors to prison sentences of up to 10 years.