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Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's health is suffering, reps say

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

A leading Russian opposition figure is sick and may be suffering from another poisoning. That's the word from those representing Alexei Navalny. They say his life is in grave danger, as NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Just a month ago, Alexei Navalny's supporters were on stage at the Oscars receiving the top award for a documentary about his poisoning and imprisonment. Now they're sounding the alarm about his health once again. Anna Veduta works with the anti-corruption organization that Navalny founded.

ANNA VEDUTA: He has lost 18 pounds in the last 15 days sitting in this cage. And the prison food causes acute stomach pain in him.

KELEMEN: An ambulance was sent to the prison last Friday, she says, but Navalny is not getting the treatment he needs. She says he's being held in a small punishment cell, and he's not being told what medicine he's been given.

VEDUTA: So we have - and by we, I mean his lawyers and our team - have all the reasons to be concerned and to suspect that he has been treated with a small portions of some kind of poison to make his health deteriorate even further.

KELEMEN: The Kremlin has brushed off the report, saying these are questions for the prison authorities. The State Department has called for Navalny's release and says it has told Russian government officials that they are responsible to what happens to Navalny in their custody. Russian security services, meanwhile, are trying to tie Navalny and his network to a bombing attack in St. Petersburg that killed a prominent nationalist blogger this month. Navalny's allies say those allegations are aimed at adding more years to his current prison sentence. Veduta believes that Navalny will remain behind bars as long as Russian President Vladimir Putin is in power.

VEDUTA: Well, we have no illusions at this point that Navalny's term is, well - is a life term, and it's either his life or Putin's life. So we understand that. And from the legal perspective, he did nothing wrong.

KELEMEN: She's trying to keep a spotlight on this case to build up more international pressure on Russia.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAMANTHA BARRON SONG, "SIN MI") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.