Eugenii Glushchenko began fasting on June 19, resulting in a 25% reduction in his weight that could lead to permanent organ damage and possibly death, U.S. District Judge Steven Logan wrote in his order Monday.
Authorities say the 37-year-old Russian has offered two reasons for not eating — either he isn't hungry or he won't eat until he is released from detention. Glushchenko's lawyers offered a different explanation, saying their client's fasting "is not the result of a death wish" but rather the consequence of the government's failure to care for his medical conditions, which aren't specified in court filings.
Glushchenko was taken into immigration custody in September near Lukeville, Arizona, after he and his wife had sneaked across the Mexico border by walking through the desert. His wife and their son have been released from custody.
His lawyers said in court records that Glushchenko and wife had fled from Russia to Mexico after receiving "repeated government death threats" because of his work with western charities and refusal to pay bribes to the Federal Security Service, a Russian intelligence agency.
Since his arrest, Glushchenko has been detained at an immigration detention center in Eloy, southeast of Phoenix. Glushchenko had been scheduled to take a commercial flight to Russia on June 17, but the trip was cancelled when he refused to board a van headed to the airport. Two days later, he started the hunger strike, according to court records.
Authorities said the detention center's staff tried to convince Glushchenko that his refusal to eat was jeopardizing his health and could lead to death. His weight dropped from 160 pounds in late January to 120 pounds during the first week of July. He has missed more than 60 meals.
Glushchenko was taken to hospitals three times for treatment for dehydration and other ailments stemming from his refusal to eat. During the hospital stays, he agreed to intravenous hydration, saline and, on one occasion, drank apple juice. But he refused to eat, federal authorities said in court records.
Federal authorities won two court orders authorizing the force-feeding of Glushchenko. Logan granted an emergency order after the last of Glushchenko's hospital stays. The second order came Monday, permanently giving federal authorities permission to force-feed him while he is in U.S. immigration custody or until he ends the hunger strike.
Christopher D. Thomas, one of Glushchenko's attorneys in the litigation over forced-feeding, declined a request from The Associated Press to comment. The U.S. Attorney's Office declined to comment on the status of efforts to return Glushchenko to Russia.
Follow Jacques Billeaud at twitter.com/jacquesbilleaud.