Skip to main content

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny appears on a screen set up at a courtroom of the Moscow City Court via a video link from his prison colony during a hearing of an appeal against his nine-year prison sentence on May 24, 2022.ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images

Supporters of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny say they’re worried for his life, as international and domestic pressure mounts for the Kremlin to provide him with emergency medical care after a flu infection that he alleges was planned by the prison.

“Alexey Navalny’s life is in extraordinary peril,” said Daniel Roher, director of the award-winning documentary Navalny, in a phone interview on Saturday.

Mr. Navalny, 46, posted on social media through his lawyers earlier this week accusing authorities of deliberately infecting him by placing a sick inmate next to him as a “bacteriological weapon.” His allies say there is a flu outbreak in the prison colony east of Moscow where he is being held, and that he has a bad fever and cough.

Russia’s federal prison service, FSIN, did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.

A fierce critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mr. Navalny is serving an 11.5-year sentence on charges of fraud and contempt of court, which political observers have called fabricated and designed to silence the politician.

His wife, Yulia, appealed to prison authorities on Instagram.

“Are you human? You have parents and children waiting for you when you come back from work. What’s going on in your head? How do you live, rejoicing that you deliberately infected a man and you don’t treat him or pass on any medicines?” she wrote.

Mr. Roher said he is in regular contact with Mr. Navalny’s team but that he did not know more about the activist’s health or detention conditions than what has been publicly reported.

An open letter to Mr. Putin, demanding that the opposition leader be given access to civilian medics, was signed by hundreds of Russian doctors and published on social media earlier this week.

In 2020, Mr. Navalny spent months in Germany and received medical care after he survived an attempt to poison him with what scientists said was a deadly nerve agent. Earlier this week, the German government called on Russian authorities to provide him with urgent medical assistance.

Mr. Roher said it was obvious that the Russian regime was trying to “murder” Mr. Navalny slowly.

“We know that the regime tried to murder him in August of 2020. It’s just a question of whether domestic and international pressure will be enough to dissuade the regime from murdering him now.”

Even behind bars, Mr. Navalny continues to fight the Russian regime, Mr. Roher said. The opposition leader’s team is trying to disrupt Russia’s war efforts in Ukraine, educating Russian citizens, paying protesters’ fines and investigating “the illicit assets of those who empower Putin all over the West.”

Despite the challenges he’s facing, Mr. Navalny likely remains optimistic, according to the director.

“What I can say from my experience with him, having spent a few months with him shooting our film, is that his orientation is always towards optimism and hope, even in the darkest context. For millions of Russians, Navalny represents a little flicker of light in a sea of abysmal darkness.”

The film, Navalny, which premiered last year at Sundance Film Festival, is among the 15 documentary feature films shortlisted for an Oscar. It features extensive interview footage with the opposition leader, shot after he was poisoned and before he returned home to Russia.

“Any attention toward my film is attention toward Alexey Navalny and his mission to survive, his fight to get through this prison sentence,” Mr. Roher said. “So, any accolades that we receive are more attention for him, and that is meaningful for me.”

The nominations for the 95th Academy Awards will be announced on Jan. 24.

With a report from Reuters