From Frigid Cells to Mystery Injections, Prison Imperiled Navalny’s Health

Aleksei A. Navalny portrayed himself as invincible, consistently using his hallmark humor to suggest that President Vladimir V. Putin couldn’t break him, no matter how dire his conditions became in prison.

But behind the brave face, the reality was plain to see. Since his incarceration in early 2021, Mr. Navalny, Russia’s most formidable opposition figure, and his staff regularly suggested his conditions were so grim that he was being put to death in slow motion.

Now his aides believe their fears have come true.

The cause of Mr. Navalny’s death in prison at 47 has not been established — in fact his family has not yet even been allowed to see his body — but Russia’s harshest penal colonies are known for hazardous conditions, and Mr. Navalny was singled out for particularly brutal treatment.

“Aleksei Navalny was subjected to torment and torture for three years,” the Russian journalist and Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitri A. Muratov wrote in a column after his death was announced on Friday. “As Navalny’s doctor told me: the body cannot withstand this.”

More than a quarter of Mr. Navalny’s incarceration since 2021 was spent in freezing “punishment cells” and he was often denied access to medical care. He was transferred to ever crueler prisons. And at one point, he said he was being given injections but was prevented from finding out what was in the syringes. His team worried he was again being poisoned.

What specifically led to Mr. Navalny’s death on Friday at a remote prison above the Arctic Circle may remain a mystery. The Russian prison service released a statement Friday afternoon saying that Mr. Navalny felt sick and suddenly lost consciousness after being outside.

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