Moscow (AFP) - Jailed opposition Russian activist Ildar Dadin suffered a suspected seizure, his wife told AFP on Thursday, after his claims of being tortured in prison caused a scandal.
Dadin's wife Anastasia Zotova said activists who visited Dadin in his prison in northwestern Russia on Wednesday told her they had seen him suffer a "strange" episode "like an epileptic fit".
The deputy head of Russia's prison service Valery Maksimenko, quoted by TASS state news agency, said that Dadin fell off a chair "in a fit" while being examined by doctors Wednesday.
"A discussion has begun about whether this was an epileptic seizure or they beat him into this state," Maksimenko said.
Dadin, 34, came to prominence when he was handed a two-and-a-half year sentence under a controversial law that punishes repeated participation in unsanctioned rallies, after he demonstrated against President Vladimir Putin's rule.
In a letter to his wife this week, Dadin said that when he arrived at the prison in the Karelia region in September, staff beat and kicked him and put his head down a toilet bowl.
The torture claims prompted an unusually high-level reaction, with the Kremlin saying Wednesday that Putin had been informed.
The prison service said in a statement that Dadin was examined in a public hospital on Thursday and medics "did not find traumatic injuries and their consequences or other underlying conditions requiring medical assistance."
The hospital's chief doctor Alexei Kheifets told TV Rain independent channel that an epileptic fit would not necessarily show up on scans, however.
Zotova told AFP her husband had never suffered from fits in the past.
"The medics and experts I told about this told me the reason for the epilepsy could be that he was kicked in the head," she said.
"I'm very nervous about my husband. I think they've done something awful to him."
- 'Use of special equipment' -
Russian human rights ombudswoman Tatyana Moskalkova visited Dadin in prison on Thursday afternoon and posted an Instagram picture where he is looking away from the camera and a dark patch is visible on his shaven head.
She told Rossiya 24 television that Dadin told her of the "use of special equipment" against him, meaning torture devices, in three incidents in September.
She recommended he be moved to another prison colony due to the "high-profile conflict."
The Investigative Committee, which probes major cases, said in a statement on Thursday it was continuing to look into the torture claims and was studying security camera footage after questioning Dadin, prisoners and staff.
Rights group Amnesty International has declared Dadin a prisoner of conscience and on Thursday urged supporters to appeal to the chief prosecutor in Karelia to release him immediately and investigate his torture claims.
Putin foe Mikhail Khodorkovsky, founder of oil company Yukos who spent a decade in prison on tax evasion charges and now lives in London, wrote on Twitter that he had sent a lawyer to try to help Dadin.
"The main thing is he's alive and isn't retracting his words, they're not torturing him any more. Comparable incidents have been exposed," he wrote, adding that the prison authorities "have gone too far."