EU ‘concerned’ over Navalny’s health in Russian penal colony

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The EU on Sunday said it was “deeply concerned” about reports that Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s health was failing in a Russian penal colony and called for his “immediate and unconditional release”.

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The matter is on the agenda of an EU foreign ministers’ videoconference to be held on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

Navalny, 44, was arrested in Russia in January after returning from a near-fatal poisoning with a banned nerve agent that he says was carried out by Moscow. President Vladimir Putin’s administration denies the accusation.

Navalny was sentenced to two and a half years in a penal colony east of Moscow. He began a hunger strike there on March 31 to demand medical treatment for back pain and numbness to his hands and legs.

On Saturday, several doctors close to Navalny warned his health had rapidly deteriorated and he could “die any minute”.

After the US government warned of “consequences” if Navalny died, Russia’s ambassador to Britain, Andrei Kelin, on Sunday said the prominent opposition leader “will not be allowed to die in prison”.

Borrell called on Russia to grant Navalny immediate access “to medical professionals he trusts” and stressed that “the Russian authorities are responsible for Mr Navalny’s safety and health in the penal colony, to which we hold them to account”.

Navalny’s detention was “politically motivated” and went against Russia’s human rights obligations, he said.

Borrell noted that the EU in October put sanctions on six Russian officials over the assassination attempt, and in February sanctioned another four individuals over Navalny’s arrest and sentencing.

“The Navalny case is not an isolated incident but confirms a negative pattern of a shrinking space for the opposition, civil society and independent voices in the Russian Federation,” Borrell said.

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