POKROV, Russia (Reuters) - Russian police detained nine people outside a prison holding Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday as a small group of his supporters came to the facility, and authorities turned away a doctor who tried to see him.
Navalny, 44, an opponent of President Vladimir Putin, announced a hunger strike last week in protest at what he said was the refusal of prison authorities to treat him properly for acute back and leg pain.
Some allies had said they would protest from Tuesday at the prison in the town of Pokrov, about 100 km (60 miles) east of Moscow, unless he saw a doctor of his choice and was given proper medicine.
The prison has said his health is satisfactory and that he has had all necessary medical care.
Navalny’s wife, Yulia, said she had received a letter from prison authorities dated March 17, saying he did not have his passport with him and that this could prevent him being admitted to hospital if ill.
Anastasiya Vasilyeva, a Navalny ally who leads a doctors’ trade union, was turned away at the prison although she said she had an appointment with a senior prison official and wanted to see Navalny and check on his health.
“All our peaceful actions don’t work,” she said.
Police later detained her along with at least six other people, including several supporters and two reporters for CNN, Reuters correspondents said.
Police said nine people had been taken into custody for flouting public order. Security at the prison had been tightened earlier on Tuesday.
Navalny was handed a jail term of around 2-1/2 years in February after a court ruled that he had violated parole for a fraud conviction in a case he says was politically motivated.
“I believe he is innocent. I’m fully on his side,” said Antonina Romanova, a Navalny supporter outside the prison. “It happens that for some reason the people who can sort things out in the country end up in jail.”
Navalny said on Monday he had a high temperature and bad cough and that three inmates in his ward had been admitted to hospital with tuberculosis.
The pro-Kremlin newspaper Izvestia later cited the state prison service as saying Navalny had been moved to a sick bay and tested for COVID-19.
The Kremlin declined comment on Navalny’s health but said he would receive medical care like any other prisoner if ill.
Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; additional reporting by Anastasiya Lyrchikova, Gleb Stolyarov; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Katya Golubkova, Giles Elgood and Timothy Heritage
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