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Discharge, itching, and lesions Doctors disagree about why Russia’s jailed opposition leader needed to be hospitalized 

Source: Meduza
Sergey Ilnitsky / EPA / Scanpix / LETA
Update: As of July 29, Alexey Navalny has been discharged and returned to a detention facility. His official diagnosis is now reportedly contact dermatitis. Doctors who had previously treated Navalny collected samples of his hair and clothing for chemical testing.

On July 24, a few days before opposition demonstrators staged a mass unpermitted rally in central Moscow, the city’s Simonovsky District Court sentenced Alexey Navalny to 30 days in jail for illegal protest advocacy. (This was already Navalny’s second “administrative arrest” in July: he previously served 10 days behind bars for joining a march on June 12 in support of journalist Ivan Golunov.) On the evening of July 28, Anti-Corruption Press Secretary Kira Yarmysh revealed on Twitter that Navalny had been moved that morning from his detention facility to a city hospital, where he was supposedly diagnosed with an “acute allergic reaction.”

Eldar Kazakhmedov, a doctor in the hospital's internal medicine department, told reporters that this was Navalny's preliminary diagnosis. Navalny was also examined by the city's chief immunologist-allergist, who diagnosed him with “contact dermatitis in the facial area and angioedema [swelling triggered by an allergy] of the paraorbital area.” Kazakhmedov called Navalny's condition “satisfactory and improving,” and noted that the patient would likely be discharged on Monday.

Navalny’s doctors question the “allergies” diagnosis

Eye specialist Anastasia Vasilyeva — who treated Navalny two years ago after his eyes were chemically burned when attackers (allegedly activists from the reactionary group “SERB”) sprayed green antiseptic in his face — wrote on Facebook that she doubts the official diagnosis that Navalny is suffering from allergies. Vasilyeva says she and another physician, Yaroslav Ashikhmin, went to the hospital where Navalny is being held, and tried to examine their patient, but a “whole police escort” refused to admit them into Navalny’s room.

Vasilyeva says she and Ashikhmin were nevertheless able to examine Navalny through a door that had been left cracked open. She offers the following diagnosis: “Severe edema and sharp hyperemia of the upper and lower eyelids and the periorbital area (around the eyes), purulent discharge from the right conjunctival cavity, and severe itching. Multiple papular lesions on the skin of the neck, back, chest, and elbows. Clinically, [the patient’s] discomfort and symptoms correspond to acute toxic keratoconjunctivitis [inflammation of the cornea and conjunctiva] and dermatitis, and general toxication (lesions on the skin).” Stating that Navalny has no allergies, ate the same hospital food as other patients, and has not used any new cologne or hygiene products, Vasilyeva concludes that his condition could be the result of “the damaging effects of undetermined chemicals.”

The doctor told the TV station Dozhd that she'd taken Navalny's t-shirt and some hair samples for independent analysis, possibly to be conducted in Europe.

Vasilyeva also claims that the chief physician at Navalny’s hospital, Olga Sharapova, is a Moscow City Duma deputy from the ruling political party, United Russia. Sharapova told the website Open Media, however, that she belongs to no party and was elected to the City Duma as an independent candidate, adding that Navalny was only brought to her hospital because it is the closest facility to the jail where he was being held.

Update: On July 29, Navalny's personal doctor, Anastasia Vasilyeva, announced on Facebook that she and Yaroslav Ashikhmin have been permitted to examine and consult Navalny. “I'm going [to the hospital] now. I really can hardly believe it. Thank you, everyone, who supported us yesterday and cared. Thanks to all you, we're seeing changes,” Vasilyeva wrote.

Navalny’s supporters came to the hospital, where they were dispersed and some were arrested by police

On the evening of July 28, Navalny’s supporters started gathering outside Hospital No. 64, where he is being treated. On Twitter, Navalny’s Moscow headquarters posted a message reminding supporters that Navalny isn’t the only patient at the hospital, and others there need peace and quiet. According to the website Baza, a police van showed up promptly, and officers dispersed the crowd and arrested several participants. Open Media reported that several journalists were also arrested, as well as Anti-Corruption Foundation attorney and Cultural Workers Union Chairwoman Olga Bulaeva. The journalists were released, after showing their press credentials, and the rest of the activists were transported to the Akademichesky police station. Police forcibly arrested Dozhd correspondent Daniil Sotnikov in the middle of a live television broadcast outside the hospital.

According to the website OVD-Info, police arrested 21 people outside the hospital. Most of these individuals were soon released after being booked for violating Russia's laws on public assemblies.

Text by Alexey Kovalev

Translation by Kevin Rothrock