France, EU 'extremely concerned' about health of Kremlin critic Navalny

·2-min read

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said his country is "extremely concerned" about the health of Alexei Navalny, the outspoken critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is on a hunger strike in a penal colony. The European Union has called for Navalny's "immediate and unconditional release".

"Navalny's situation is extremely concerning," Le Drian told France 3 television. "I hope that measures are taken to ensure Navalny's physical integrity, but also his freedom," he said.

"There is a major responsibility here for President Vladimir Putin."

The matter is on the agenda of an EU foreign ministers' videoconference to be held on Monday, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

Navalny, Putin's most prominent opponent, was arrested in January on returning to Russia after recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack he says was orchestrated by the Kremlin. The Kremlin denies the allegation.

He is serving two and a half years on old embezzlement charges -- which he says are politically motivated -- in a penal colony in the town of Pokrov around 100 kilometres (60 miles) east of Moscow.

The 44-year-old began a hunger strike on March 31 to demand proper medical treatment for back pain and numbness in his legs and hands.

On Saturday, several doctors close to Navalny warned that his health had rapidly deteriorated and he could "die any minute," demanding prison officials grant them immediate access.

"There is truly an authoritarian drift in Russia," Le Drian said.

"Russia is responsible for Navalny's health, it must assume its role," he added, saying the European Union was closely following his fate.

"We have already taken action," he said, referring to EU sanctions.

"The package of sanctions is already significant, but there may be others."

(with AFP)