By Mark Trevelyan
(Reuters) - The wife of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appealed to prison staff to provide him with basic medicines on Wednesday as his supporters warned with increasing urgency that his life was in danger.
Navalny's allies said the 46-year-old was placed in a cramped punishment cell for 15 days on Dec. 31, the 10th time he had been sent there in the space of five months for misdemeanours such as washing his face at the wrong time or failing to button up his prison uniform.
Navalny posted on social media via his lawyers this week that authorities had deliberately infected him by placing a sick man next to him as a "bacteriological weapon". His allies say there is a flu outbreak in the prison colony where he is being held east of Moscow, and he has a bad fever and cough.
His wife Yulia appealed to prison authorities via Instagram.
"Are you human? You have parents and children waiting for you when you come back from work. What's going on in your head? How do you live, rejoicing that you deliberately infected a man and you don't treat him or pass on any medicines?" she asked.
Russia's federal prison service, FSIN, did not immediately reply to a Reuters request for comment.
Navalny's supporters said a legal hearing over his prison conditions went ahead on Wednesday, although he had asked for it to be postponed because of his illness. The outcome of the proceedings was not clear.
"Navalny looks exhausted. He is really ill, and the prison colony is refusing him the most basic and necessary medicines. They are just slowly killing him in prison," his ally Lyubov Sobol said on Twitter.
Navalny, the most prominent domestic critic of President Vladimir Putin, survived an attempt to poison him in 2020 with what scientists in several European countries said was a deadly nerve agent. Russia disputed that finding and the Kremlin denied trying to kill him.
He spent months recovering in Germany, and his health has been a concern ever since. He was imprisoned after returning home in 2021 and is now serving sentences totalling 11-1/2 years on charges including fraud and contempt of court.
Navalny, his allies and Western governments and rights groups say he was the victim of trumped-up charges designed to silence him.
An open letter to Putin, demanding that Navalny be given access to civilian doctors, was signed by 481 medics on Facebook, with others adding their names below.
"Alexander Navalny's conditions of detention and his physical appearance cause us to be hugely concerned for his life and health. The refusal of FSIN representatives to give Alexei necessary medicines creates a direct threat to the life of Russian citizen Alexei Anatolyevich Navalny," the letter said.
Navalny said last month he was suffering worsening backpain from long spells in the punishment cell, and complained of being injected with unknown drugs.
His supporters quoted him as saying on Wednesday that the prison authorities had deliberately placed him in a cell opposite a mentally disturbed inmate in order to prevent him sleeping.
"They took a violent mentally ill person and placed him in the cell opposite," he was quoted as saying. "I've been saying for a month now that you have no right to keep a man there who literally howls at night."
(Reporting by Mark Trevelyan)