June 5, 2023

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, accused of disregarding the terms of a suspended sentence for embezzlement, is attending a trial in Moscow on February 2, 2021.

Moscow City Court | Reuters

WASHINGTON – United Nations human rights experts called for the immediate medical evacuation of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny from Russia, citing concerns about his deteriorating health and detention conditions, which they claim could mean torture.

“We believe Mr Navalny’s life is in grave danger,” the group wrote in a statement on Wednesday. “We are deeply concerned that Mr Navalny is being held in conditions that could mean torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in a facility that is reported to be inconsistent with international standards,” the statement added.

“We urge the Russian authorities to ensure that Mr Navalny has access to his own doctors and that he can be evacuated abroad for urgent medical treatment as he was in August 2020. We reaffirm that the Russian government is responsible for the life of Mr Navalny is responsible and health while he is in custody, “added the group.

A Russian court sentenced Navalny to more than two years in prison for parole violations in February. He said the allegations were politically motivated. He was arrested after recovering from nerve agent poisoning in Germany last August for almost six months.

Moscow has denied any role in Navalny’s poisoning. After his arrest and subsequent imprisonment, the West asked the Kremlin to release Navalny immediately.

Navalny, one of the loudest critics of Russian President Vladimir Putin in recent years, was transferred to a prison hospital on April 19, on a three-week hunger strike to protest his treatment in prison and the denial of urgent medical treatment.

The Russian authorities had previously stated that they had offered medical care to Navalny, but he continued to refuse. The prison refused to allow a doctor, chosen by Navalny, from outside the facility to provide his treatment.

On Sunday, White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said the Biden government had warned the Russian government not to let Navalny die in custody.

“We have told the Russian government that what happens to Mr. Navalny in their care is their responsibility and that they will be held accountable by the international community,” Sullivan said on CNN’s State of the Union program.

“We have announced that there will be consequences if Mr Navalny dies,” he added.

The confrontation over Navalny’s imprisonment and deteriorating health is the latest blow in the already strained relations between Moscow and the West.

In an annual address on Wednesday, Putin warned countries not to cross Russia’s “red lines” as international pressure mounts over massive military build-up on the border with Ukraine.

In March, the United States sanctioned seven members of the Russian government for alleged poisoning and subsequent imprisonment of Navalny. The sanctions were the first to be directed against Moscow under the leadership of US President Joe Biden. The Trump administration has taken no action against Russia because of the situation in Navalny.

Last week, the Biden administration hit Russia with another round of US sanctions for human rights abuses, widespread cyberattacks and attempts to influence the US elections.

In a speech announcing the new measures, Biden said he was ready to take further action against Moscow.

“If Russia continues to interfere with our democracy, I am ready to take further action to respond. It is my responsibility as President of the United States to do so,” said White House Biden.

Washington has also banned 10 officials from Russia’s diplomatic mission in the United States.