Putin opponent sent back to jail after suspected poisoning

MOSCOW — Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was moved back to jail from a hospital Monday even though his physician raised suspicions of a possible poisoning after he suffered facial swelling and a rash while in custody.

Details about Navalny’s condition were scarce after he was rushed to a hospital Sunday with what authorities said was a suspected allergy attack inside a detention facility where he was serving a 30-day sentence for calling an unsanctioned protest. The 43-year-old political foe of President Vladimir Putin was arrested several days before a major opposition rally Saturday that ended with nearly 1,400 people detained.

Tensions are running high in Moscow as dozens of protesters remain in custody and the opposition called for a new rally Aug. 3.

In a blog post written in detention, Navalny said he may have been exposed to an unknown chemical agent while in custody. Navalny recalled how his face started to become swollen on Saturday and it worsened the next day: “I got up in the morning, and when my cellmate saw me, he said: ‘You need to see a doctor now.’”

Dr. Anastasiya Vasilyeva, who has been Navalny’s physician for several years, visited him Monday shortly before he was discharged from the hospital and sent back to the detention facility even before the necessary tests were run on him.

Doctors at the hospital initially said Navalny had a severe allergy attack, but Vasilyeva said that the swelling and the rash on his face could be consistent with chemical poisoning. She said the incarceration would jeopardize his health.

“He has not fully recovered. He should have been left under medical supervision,” she told reporters outside the hospital, adding that the doctors didn’t even try to determine what caused the swelling and rash. “Who is going to watch over him at the detention facility? They are not qualified to provide him with professional help.”

Vasilyeva expressed concern that the chemical agent that caused the outbreak could still be in his prison cell.

Navalny’s attorney, Olga Mikhailova, told reporters earlier the outbreak was caused by “poisoning, by some kind of chemical substance” but that its source wasn’t established. She said he has been given anti-inflammatory steroids and that the swelling subsided.

Navalny said Monday he felt and looked better now — “like someone who’s been drinking for a week.” His face is visibly swollen in the picture he attached to the blog post, with red circles around the eyes.

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File photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a 43-year-old political foe of President Vladimir Putin, was arrested several days before a major opposition rally Saturday that ended with nearly 1,400 people detained.

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