- Russian President Vladimir Putin’s most ardent critic, Alexei Navalny, fell into a coma on Thursday aboard a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk.
- Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, alleges that Navalny was poisoned at the airport after drinking a cup of tea he ordered from a cafe.
- Many opposition figures have accused Putin of poisoning Navalny, who has been feverishly campaigning for anti-Kremlin candidates in regional elections to be held next month.
- Navalny is said to be stable but still in serious condition, though police said they currently are not considering this a deliberate poisoning attempt. Opposition leaders have dismissed the statement as propaganda.
Navalny Allegedly Poisoned
Alexei Navalny, Russian President Valdimir Putin’s fiercest critic, fell into a coma Thursday after his spokesperson said he drank a cup of tea that had been laced with poison. He is reportedly in serious condition.
That spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said the incident began as the two were preparing to fly back to Moscow from Tomsk, a city in Siberia. While waiting for their plane, Yarmysh said Navalny ordered a cup of tea from an airport cafe.
As they boarded the plane, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Later in the flight, Navalny reportedly began to sweat and seemed like he might be falling ill. According to Yarmysh, he asked her to talk to him so he could “focus on the sound of a voice.”
Shortly after the flight began, Navalny went to the restroom, where he collapsed and lost consciousness. The plane’s pilot later made an emergency landing in Omsk, another city in Siberia. Once the plane landed, paramedics rushed on board to treat Navalny.
During this time, a passenger on the flight recorded part of the response, where Navalny can be heard loudly moaning in pain.
Once off the plane, Navalny was transported to a hospital in Omsk and put on a ventilator. He has not woken up since.
Though he is still in serious condition, doctors treating Navalny have said he has stabilized.
Opposition Figures Accuse Putin
Yarmysh said she believes Navalny’s coffee was poisoned because it was the only thing he had to drink that morning before falling into his coma.
She also immediately accused Putin of orchestrating the attack, saying, “Whether he personally gave the order or not, the blame is entirely with him.”
Once news broke, other opposition figures soon began blaming Putin, as well.
“We are sure that the only people that have the capability to target Navalny or myself are Russian security services with definite clearance from Russia’s political leadership,” anti-Krelim activist Pyotr Verzilov told the Associated Press. “We believe that Putin definitely is a person who gives that go-ahead in this situation.”
Verzilov is believed to have also been poisoned in 2018 for activism against the Kremlin, or Russia’s executive branch of government.
Internationally, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he’s “deeply concerned” by the incident.
Who is Navalny?
Navalny has faced harassment for a number of years for his own activism against the Kremlin. In 2017, several men attacked him by throwing antiseptic in his face, damaging an eye.
In a situation that captured international headlines in late 2017, Navalny was barred from running from Russian presidential elections after campaigning heavily against Putin, who has been in power for two decades and could remain in power until 2036 under a new law that extends his term limits.
Navalny has also been frequently arrested by authorities for his activism. Last year, while in prison, he was rushed to the hospital following a severe allergic attack. The next day, he was discharged back to prison. Navalny’s team has asserted that the allergic reaction was actually a poisoning, and like Thursday’s incident, they believe Putin was behind it.
In March, Navalny was forced to close his Anti-Corruption Foundation, which had exposed crimes by Russia’s elite for more than a decade.
As far as why he might have been poisoned on Thursday, Yarmysh said she suspects the alleged attack is tied to next month’s regional elections. In fact, on Thursday, Navalny was flying back from a meeting with activists and opposition candidates for those elections.
Navalny’s influence could pose a major threat to Putin in the upcoming elections. Between Putin’s struggle to navigate Russia through the coronavirus pandemic and a declining economy, it’s possible that Navalny could mobilize voters against pro-Kremlin candidates.
Doctors in the hospital where Navalny is being treated have remained tight-lipped. While they’ve yet to confirm whether or not Navalny was poisoned, they said they’re naturally considering that as a possible cause.
Still, the state-run news agency Tass has reported that police are not considering this to be a deliberate poisoning attempt. Opposition leaders have dismissed the statement as propaganda.
Reportedly, doctors have denied Navalny’s wife, Yulia, the ability to see her husband. That’s because she didn’t have their marriage certificate on her and because Navalny was unable to consent.
Verzilov told the AP that he’s worried the doctors treating Navalny are facing pressure from Russia’s security services. Alongside that, Navalny’s personal doctor reportedly wants him transferred to a hospital in Germany; however, doctors have refused to turn over the medical documents that would be necessary to make such a transfer.
Dmitry Peskov, a spokesperson for the Kremlin, said authorities will not consider a request to allow Navalny to be transferred out of the country until test results indicate what has caused Navalny’s condition. Russia still has not fully opened its borders, and like many countries, it remains under a coronavirus lockdown.
“If [Navalny] was actually poisoned, if certain statements are made, and if law enforcement agencies adopt other decisions, an investigation will be opened,” Peskov said amid calls for Russia’s Investigative Committee to open a criminal probe.
See what others saying: (The Associated Press) (The Washington Post) (BBC)
U.K. Court Rules Julian Assange Can Be Extradited to U.S.
The judgment overrules a lower court decision that blocked the WikiLeaks founder’s extradition on the grounds that his mental health was not stable enough to weather harsh conditions in the American prison system if convicted.
New Developments in Assange Extradition Battle
A British court ruled Friday that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can be extradited to the United States to face charges of violating the Espionage Act that could land him in prison for decades.
Prosecutors in the U.S. have accused Assange of conspiring with former army intelligence analyst Chelsea Manning in 2010 to hack into a Department of Defense computer network and access thousands of military and diplomatic records on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The information obtained in the hack was later published by WikiLeaks in 2010 and 2011, a move U.S. authorities allege put lives in danger.
In addition to a charge of computer misuse, Assange has also been indicted on 17 espionage charges. Collectively, the charges carry a maximum prison sentence of 175 years.
The Friday decision from the High Court overturns a lower court ruling in January, which found that Assange’s mental health was too fragile for the harsh environment he could face in the U.S. prison system if convicted.
Notably, the January ruling did not determine whether or not Assange was guilty. In fact, District Judge Vanessa Baraitser explicitly rejected the defense’s arguments that the charges against him were politically motivated and that he should be protected under freedom of press.
However, she agreed that the defense had provided compelling evidence that Assange suffers from severe depression and that the conditions he could face in the U.S. prison system were “such that it would be oppressive to extradite him to the United States of America.”
The U.S. appealed the ruling, arguing that Assange’s mental health should not be a barrier to extradition and that the psychiatrist who examined him had been biased.
In October, the Biden administration vowed that if Assange were to be convicted, he would not be placed in the highest-security U.S. prison or immediately sent to solitary confinement. Officials also said that the native Australian would be eligible to serve his sentence in his home country.
High Court Ruling
The High Court agreed with the administration’s arguments in its ruling, arguing that the American’s assurances regarding the conditions of Assange’s potential incarceration were “sufficient.”
“There is no reason why this court should not accept the assurances as meaning what they say,” the ruling stated. “There is no basis for assuming that the USA has not given the assurances in good faith.”
Assange’s fiancé, Stella Moris, said in a statement that his legal team would appeal the decision to the British Supreme Court at the “earliest possible moment,” referring to the judgment as a “grave miscarriage of justice.”
The Supreme Court will now decide whether or not to hear the case based on if it believes the matter involves a point of law “of general public importance.” That decision may take weeks or even months.
If the U.K. Supreme Court court objects to hearing Assange’s appeal, he could ask the European Court of Human Rights to stay the extradition — a move that could set in motion another lengthy legal battle in the already drawn-out process.
Assange and his supporters claim he was acting as an investigative journalist when he published the classified military cables. They argue that the possibility of his extradition and prosecution represent serious threats to press freedoms in the U.S.
U.S. prosecutors dispute that Assange acted as a journalist, claiming that he encouraged illegal hacking for personal reasons.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (NPR) (The Washington Post)
Early Data Indicates Omicron is More Transmissible But Less Severe
The studies come as Pfizer and BioNTech claim that preliminary research shows a third shot of their COVID vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the new variant, but two doses alone may not.
More Information About Omicron
Several preliminary studies published in recent days appear to show that the new omicron COVID-19 variant may be more transmissible but less severe than previous strains.
One recent, un-peer-reviewed study by a Japanese scientist who advises the country’s health ministry found that omicron is four times more transmissible in its initial stage than delta was.
Preliminary information in countries hit hard by omicron also indicates high transmissibility. In South Africa — where the variant was first detected and is already the dominant strain — new COVID cases have more than doubled over the last week.
Health officials in the U.K. said omicron cases are doubling every two or three days, and they expect the strain to become dominant in the country in a matter of weeks.
In a statement Wednesday, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that while early data does seem to show high transmissibility, it also indicates that omicron causes more mild cases than delta.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevent Director Rochelle Walensky echoed that sentiment, telling reporters that of the 40 known omicron cases in the U.S. as of Wednesday, nearly all of them were mild. One person has been hospitalized so far and none have died.
Studies on Vaccine Efficacy
Other recent studies have shown that current COVID vaccines are effective at preventing severe illness and death in omicron patients, and boosters provide at least some added protection.
On Wednesday, Pfizer and BioNTech announced that laboratory tests have shown a third dose of their COVID-19 vaccine appears to provide sufficient protection against the omicron variant, though two doses may not.
According to the companies, researchers saw a 25-fold reduction in neutralizing antibodies for omicron compared to other strains of the virus for people who had just two Pfizer doses.
By contrast, samples from people one month after they had received a Pfizer booster presented neutralizing antibodies against omicron that were comparable to those seen against previous variants after two doses.
Still, Pfizer’s chief executive also told reporters later in the day that omicron could increase the likelihood that people might need a fourth dose earlier than previously expected, which he had initially said was 12 months after the third shot.
Notably, the Pfizer research has not yet been peer-reviewed, and it remains unclear how omicron will operate outside a lab, but other studies have had similar findings.
See what others are saying: (The New York Times) (Bloomberg) (NBC News)
40 Camels Disqualified From Beauty Contest After Breeders Inject Their Faces With Botox
The animals were barred from competing for $66 million in prizes at this year’s King Abdulaziz Camel Festival in Saudi Arabia.
Camels Booted From Beauty Contest
More than 40 camels were disqualified from a beauty contest in Saudi Arabia this week after judges found artificial enhancements in their faces, marking the biggest crackdown on contestants in the competition to date.
The animals were competing for $66 million in prizes at the King Abdulaziz Camel Festival, a month-long event that is estimated to include around 33,000 camels.
However, according to The Guardian, they were forced out of the contest when authorities found that breeders had “stretched out the lips and noses of the camels, used hormones to boost the animals’ muscles, injected heads and lips with Botox to make them bigger, inflated body parts with rubber bands, and used fillers to relax their faces.”
Those types of alterations are banned since judges look at the contestant’s heads, necks, humps, posture, and other features when evaluating them.
An announcement from the state-linked Saudi Press Agency said officials used “specialized and advanced” technology to detect tampering.
“The club is keen to halt all acts of tampering and deception in the beautification of camels,” the SPA report added before warning that organizers would “impose strict penalties on manipulators.”
While it’s unclear what that actually entails, this isn’t the first time people have tried to cheat in this way.
In 2018, 12 camels were similarly disqualified from the competition for injections in their noses, lips, and jaw.