(Reuters) – Dozens of famous figures, including writers and actors, have signed an open letter urging Russian President Vladimir Putin to release opposition politician Alexei Navalny and end what they called his torture in prison.
Nobel prize-winning writers Svetlana Alexievich, JM Coetzee, Herta Mueller, Orhan Pamuk, Olga Tokarczuk and Mario Vargas Llosa were among those who signed the appeal.
Navalny, a former lawyer who rose to fame lampooning Putin’s elite and alleging grand corruption, is serving sentences totaling 11 1/2 years in a penal colony on charges including fraud that he says were fabricated to prevent challenge Putin, an idea the Kremlin rejects.
Russian authorities say Navalny and his supporters are extremists with ties to the US CIA intelligence agency who are trying to destabilize Russia. His move has been made illegal, and Navalny himself faces new charges that could add years to his prison sentence.
Navalny’s supporters have grown increasingly concerned about his health in recent weeks, saying they fear he could die in jail. They say that she has suffered severe stomach pains and weight loss.
“He has been constantly returned to solitary confinement, (and) placed in a concrete cell the size of a kennel, with no ventilation,” said the signatories to the letter, which also included dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov, actors Jude Law and Benedict Cumberbatch. , and writers Margaret Atwood, JK Rowling and Salman Rushdie.
“Family visits and phone calls are prohibited, his attorney-client privileges have been cancelled. Despite having a fever, he must be on his feet all day.”
They said they were adding their voices to those of Russian doctors who had called for immediate medical attention for Navalny and to those of Russian lawyers and regional MPs who were demanding an end to what they called Navalny’s “torture”.
The Kremlin has refused to comment on Navalny’s treatment or his state of health, saying it is a matter for the prison service which has said in the past that it is providing him with all necessary medical care.
Navalny earned the admiration of Russia’s disparate opposition for voluntarily returning to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he had been treated for what Western laboratory tests showed was an attempt to poison him with a nerve agent in Siberia.
The Kremlin denied trying to kill him and said there was no evidence he was poisoned with a nerve agent.
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan; Editing by Andrew Osborn)