RUSSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER 'POISONED'
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is in a coma and on a ventilator in a Siberian hospital after his flight made an emergency landing today; his spokeswoman is calling it a case of poisoning.
This morning, Alexei Navalny was on his way from Tomsk (city in Siberia) to Moscow. As soon as he boarded the flight, there was an air of panic and uneasiness that surrounded him. He was sweating profusely, so he asked his spokeswoman to talk to him because he wanted to "focus on the sound of a voice" in order to maintain responsiveness. A passenger that was on the same flight said, "At the start of the flight he went to the toilet and didn't come back. He started feeling really sick. They struggled to bring him round and he was screaming in pain." It was not long before Mr. Navalny lost consciousness in the lavatory.
The plane made an emergency landing in the blink of an eye and paramedics swarmed the aircraft. Mr. Navalny was taken on a stretcher to an ambulance on the airport runway and is now in intensive care in a Siberian hospital.
S7, the airline Mr. Navalny was flying with, said that he hadn’t eaten or drunk anything on the plane. This occurrence was appalling since Mr. Navalny consumed nothing today.....nothing except for a cup of black tea.
There is even a picture making the rounds on social media, which shows him drinking from a cup at a Tomsk airport cafe. It is believed that a harmful chemical substance was mixed with his beverage.
Dr. Kalinichenko, deputy chief doctor of the hospital, said, “There was no certainty that poisoning is the cause” but said that it was “one of the versions” under consideration. Tatyana Shakirova, a spokeswoman for the regional health ministry in Omsk, also said, “It's not possible now to say what the reason was."
On the other hand, Baza, a news channel on Telegram ( known for paying doctors and police officers for inside information) claimed that Mr. Navalny had been poisoned with GHB (Gamma-hydroxybutyrate), which is a date rape drug.
Such incidents, however, aren’t uncommon to the opposition leader. In July 2019, Mr. Navalny was given a 30-day jail term after calling for unauthorised protests. During this jail sentence, he became unwell; the doctors diagnosed him with "contact dermatitis" or rash, even though he never had any acute allergic reactions. In fact, his own doctor suggested he might have been exposed to "some toxic agent". Additionally, In 2017, he suffered chemical burns to his eye when attackers cast green antiseptic at his face outside his office.
Alexei Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation is routinely raided by the police and investigators. He is the most prominent member of the Russian opposition and in the 2018 Presidential elections, he was campaigning against President Vladimir Putin. Mr. Navalny’s allies are rather convinced that the government or its supporters had something to do with his poisoning, as they have allegedly had in attempting to sabotage his political career.
As of now, Mr. Navalny’s lawyer, Vyacheslav Gimadi, is requesting Russia's Investigative Committee to open a criminal probe and look into this matter. In addition, the owners of the airport cafe are checking the CCTV to find any evidence that could be of interest to this case. And, Tomsk’s airport is going to hand over recordings from security cameras to the police.
It is notable that opposition politicians as well as the spokeswoman for Alexei Navalny have claimed that this was a case of poisoning. Doctors were initially willing to openly share information regarding his health, but are now saying that the toxicology tests have been delayed. Further, the spokeswoman said that they were "clearly playing for time, and not saying what they know." Regardless, a diagnosis is expected later this evening.
The uncomfortable truth is that this incident is a little too grave and anticipated to be termed as an “allergic reaction” or another "contact dermatitis". There have been several attacks in the recent past on Mr. Navalny for his bold campaigns against President Putin; another such happening is difficult to rule out. But, the diagnosis might help us get closer to establishing a widely-held belief today: the Russian opposition is under attack.
Reporter- Haneen Farid