© Reuters. Police officers guard near a security checkpoint at the IK-2 penal colony in Pokrov
By Maria Tsvetkova
POKROV, Russia (Reuters) – Russian police on Tuesday arrested nine people outside a prison where Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was held when a small group of his supporters walked into the facility and authorities turned away a doctor who tried to prey on him to see.
Navalny, 44, a prominent opponent of President Vladimir Putin, announced a hunger strike last week to protest the prison authorities’ refusal to adequately treat him for acute back and leg pain.
Some allies had threatened to protest at the Pokrov city prison starting Tuesday unless he saw a doctor of his choice and received the right medicine. The prison said his health was satisfactory and he had received all necessary medical care.
On Tuesday, Anastasiya Vasilyeva, an ally of Navalny who heads a union of doctors who authorities consider opposition activists, said she had not come to protest.
Instead, she said she had an appointment with a senior prison officer and wanted to be let in to see Navalny and check his health. She was turned away.
According to Reuters correspondents, she was later arrested by police along with at least six other people, including several supporters and two reporters for CNN.
“All of our peaceful actions do not work. It feels like they want to kill Alexei,” said Vasilyeva when she was led away.
Police said nine people were detained for violating public order.
Authorities increased security in the prison early Tuesday, closed a parking lot for everyone but prison staff, set up a makeshift checkpoint and blocked the road.
“It is now under a special (security) regime,” a police officer told Reuters.
Navalny said late Monday that he had high temperatures and a strong cough and that three inmates of his ward had been hospitalized with tuberculosis. However, he said that he intended to continue his hunger strike.
The Kremlin-friendly Izvestia newspaper later quoted the state prison service and said Navalny had been taken to an infirmary and tested for the coronavirus.
The Kremlin declined to comment on Navalny’s health, but said that like any other prisoner, he would receive medical care if he were sick.
Antonina Romanova, a supporter of Navalny, said she had come to show solidarity.
“I think he’s innocent. I’m on his side,” she said. “It happens that for some reason the people who can sort things out in the country end up in jail,” she said.
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