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Doctors say Russian opposition leader may have been poisoned in prison

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Russian officials say he merely suffered from an allergy

Sergei Fadeichev\TASS via Getty Images

Russian doctors say they believe that jailed Russian opposition member Alexei Navalny was poisoned.

Navalny was hospitalized Sunday morning. Russian officials blamed his health issues on a "severe allergic reaction," but two Russian doctors disagreed.

Who is Alexei Navalny?

Navalny was one of the most prominent voices of the anti-Putin movement in Russia. President Vladimir Putin's government had barred him from taking part in the country's March 2018 election.

Navalny led a rally to try to get his fellow Russians to boycott that election. While Putin's victory was all but secured since he barred any serious opponents from running, he still likes to brag about voter turnout. Navalny's boycott would have robbed Putin of this talking point.

Since Russian citizens are not permitted to have protests or rallies without government permission, Navalny was jailed in August for his participation in this rally. He was released a month later, but detained immediately after leaving the detention center. He is still being held following this second arrest.

What happened now?

Anastasia Vasilyeva, a doctor who claimed to have seen Navalny, posted about his health issues on Facebook on Sunday. According to a translation reported by ABC News, the post said that Vasilyeva and another doctor named Yaroslav Ashikhmin had been permitted to view Navalny only through a window.

They claimed to have seen him with a swollen face and rashes. Vasilyeva said that this was "the result of the harmful effect of an unidentified chemical substance."

"It was a toxic reaction to a chemical, it was definitely some chemical agent," Vasilyeva told Agence France Presse. "It's absurd to call it an allergy."

What else?

Russia has been accused of poisoning political opponents of the government before. Former Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko was killed in 2006 after drinking a cup of tea laced with Polonium-210.

In March 2018, an attempt to poison Sergei Skripal, a former Russian military intelligence officer who had been handing state secrets to British intelligence service MI6, with the Soviet-made nerve agent novichok failed. In this instance, a bystander named Dawn Sturgess died after coming in contact with the nerve agent container that had been discarded after the botched assassination.

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