Russia's prison authority on April 1 rejected accusations of mistreatment of opposition leader Aleksei Navalny, one day after the anti-corruption campaigner and frequent Kremlin critic announced a hunger strike to protest alleged abuses in custody.
The 44-year-old Navalny has complained of medical care being withheld for serious ailments and near constant interruptions by prison guards at night to deny him sleep.
Navalny was quickly taken into custody at a Moscow airport in January after recovering abroad from a nerve-agent poisoning in Russia that Western countries and international rights groups have linked to the Russian state.
Now, the prison service for Correctional Colony No. 2 outside Moscow where Navalny is serving a sentence widely viewed as politically motivated has been quoted as saying guards were following guidelines to respect inmates' sleep and that Navalny was getting medical care.
"Correction facility officers strictly respect the right of all inmates to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep," Reuters quoted prison authorities as saying late on March 31. It said safeguards included visual checks at night.
"These measures do not interfere with convicts resting," it added. "...Navalny is being provided with all necessary medical care in accordance with his current medical conditions."
But doctors who are trusted by Navalny's close associates have been standing by helplessly, urging authorities to respond to appeals for Navalny's care.
Navalny this week declared a hunger strike in a handwritten note to lawyers, saying he was being deprived of proper medical treatment as fear among his associates mounted over his state of health just months after being in a coma following the poison attack.
Last week, he said he had received nothing more from prison doctors than ibuprofen, despite being in acute pain from leg and back ailments.
In an Instagram post on March 31, he said the pain had worsened and that he had lost some sensitivity in both legs. He also said he was being awakened up to eight times a night.
“I have the right to call a doctor and get medicine. They don't give me either one or the other,” he said in the post, which was published through his lawyers.
"I have declared a hunger strike demanding that the law be upheld and a doctor of my choice be allowed to visit me.... So I'm lying here, hungry, but still with two legs.”
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on March 31 that the United States and its allies and partners have continually called for Navalny’s release and will continue to seek to hold accountable those who are responsible for his detention and attempts on his life.
“We’ve been very clear that Aleksei Navalny is a political prisoner,” Price said at a briefing. “His detention is politically motivated.”
Hundreds of Russian physicians on March 29 demanded authorities provide immediate medical assistance to Navalny amid the growing concerns.
Navalny's incarceration after his return from Berlin in mid-January despite clear warnings from Russian officials sparked major protests around the country.
Navalny has said the assassination attempt by poisoning that forced doctors to put him into a medically induced coma for several weeks was ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin -- an allegation rejected by the Kremlin.
A Moscow court in February ruled that while in Germany after his medical evacuation, Navalny had violated the terms of parole from an older embezzlement case that is widely considered to be politically motivated.
His suspended 3 1/2-year sentence was converted into jail time, though the court reduced that amount to 2 1/2 years for time already served in detention.