Moscow (AFP) - Russia has ordered a prisoner to pay his medical costs after he went on hunger strike over jail conditions, his lawyer said Monday, a move that could curb protests against poor treatment of convicts.
The prison service is forcing Andrei Krekov, 36, a lawyer from the northwestern Arkhangelsk region, to cover costs of some 50,000 rubles ($870) resulting from a 27-day hunger strike last year.
Prisoners in Russia have little recourse to draw attention to abuses and often resort to hunger strikes as a way of highlighting their plight.
High-profile detainees in Russian jails who have held hunger strikes include the Pussy Riot punks, former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky and Ukrainian pilot Nadiya Savchenko.
"We have huge doubts about the legality of this lawsuit," said Alexei Fedyarov, a lawyer from Sitting Rus, an organisation that campaigns for prisoners' rights, who has taken up Krekov's case.
"The lawsuit and the decision on it will set a precedent," he said, warning that hunger strikes "could simply die out."
Krekov is serving a sentence of 2 years and 8 months in a penal colony after being jailed in 2015 for allegedly biting a policeman on the leg, a charge he says was fabricated after he reported a police beating.
Krekov's partner Viktoria, who asked not to give her full name for fear of repercussions, told AFP he launched a hunger strike after being placed in an isolation cell as punishment for allegedly making an unsanctioned phone call.
At the end of his hunger strike his health deteriorated and he was hospitalised for nine days.
While Krekov is entitled to free state hospital treatment, he was given private treatment for reasons that are unclear, and the prison service is suing him over the medical costs of 28,917 rubles, arguing he deliberately damaged his health.
In addition he is being ordered to pay 21,616 rubles for costs including convoy guards and even petrol.
A magistrates' court has upheld the payment demand and Krekov has taken the case through numerous appeals, running up legal bills of 500,000 rubles, his partner said.