Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has appeared in public for the first time since going on hunger strike – via video link during a court hearing.
The 44-year-old Russian opposition leader told the court he looks like a “creepy skeleton” as he appealed against his fine for slandering a 94-year-old Second World War veteran.
He allegedly called the veteran and other people featured in a pro-Kremlin video last year “corrupt stooges”, “people without conscience” and “traitors”.
Mr Navalny has rejected the charges and previously described them as another example of official efforts to disparage him.
Addressing his wife, who was in court for Thursday’s proceedings, he said: “Yulia, if you can hear me, stand up for a second, I want to look at you.”
He also said that he missed her very much and since their last meeting has lost two kilos – and now weighs 72 kilograms.
“Yesterday I was taken to the bathhouse, there is a mirror. I looked – and I am a creepy skeleton. I weighed this much in seventh grade. If I had taken off my tunic, I would have looked much worse,” he added.
Mr Navalny, an anti-corruption campaigner and President Vladimir Putin‘s most vocal critic, began a hunger strike on 31 March to protest against the prison authorities’ refusal to let his doctors visit after he developed severe back pain and numbness in his legs.
He said on 23 April that he would start gradually ending it after receiving medical care, even as the political prospects for him and his movement darkened.
On easing his hunger strike, he told the court: “Yesterday I ate four spoons of porridge, today five spoons.
“When I get to 10 spoons, it will be a breakthrough. To get 60 grams of raw carrots, I wrote a petition, they are still considering it.”
Reporting from the court, Sky News’ Moscow correspondent Diana Magnay said Mr Navalny had asked how long the hearing would take as he had lunch and did not want to miss it.
She said he sat with his arms folded, wearing dark glasses, and looks like a “diminished figure” and “clearly thinner” – but said the camera angle did not help as he was squeezed into a corner of a grey cell.
Mr Navalny was arrested earlier this year and is serving a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a prison some 60 miles (97km) east of Moscow for parole violations on an earlier conviction that he says was politically motivated.
On Monday, prosecutors asked the court to prohibit Mr Navalny’s groups from publishing anything online, organising protests and taking part in elections.
His lawyers said on Thursday that a Russian court has scheduled the main hearing in the “extremism” case against his activist network for 17 May.
His team has said it was officially disbanding its network of regional campaign offices across Russia.
But Mr Navalny’s chief of staff Leonid Volkov said on Monday the group would continue its work, including investigations into corruption, and that it was “not going to give up”.