Navalny’s family demands return of his body as hundreds detained at memorials across Russia

By Isaac M February 18, 2024

Alexei Navalny’s family have demanded the return of the opposition leader’s body, with Russian authorities accused of hiding his body to cover up what they claim is a Kremlin-sponsored murder.

Navalny, 47, who was Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critic, died on Friday at the brutal “Polar Wolf” Arctic penal colony in Kharp, about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow, where he was serving a three-decade sentence. Prison authorities who announced his death claim he fell unconscious after a walk.

His death was confirmed in a note handed to Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, on Saturday morning when she visited the colony with her son’s lawyer, according to his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh. The note said he died at 2.17pm local time.

But his family and allies later accused authorities of hiding the anti-corruption campaigner’s body and claimed prison officials had lied about its whereabouts.

It came a day after international leaders, including US president Joe Biden, placed blame for the murder squarely on the Kremlin and said Russia must face consequences.

Alexei Navalny’s mother (left) is seen leaving the Russian penal colony where he died


Ms Yarmysh said: “Alexei Navalny has been murdered … We demand that Alexei Navalny’s body be given to his family immediately.”

Meanwhile, hundreds of people seeking to pay their respects were arrested across Russia at events paying tribute to Navalny.

At least 359 people have been detained at the time of writing at events across 32 Russian cities, according to rights group OVD-Info, since Navalny’s death was announced on Friday.

According to Ms Yarmysh, Navalny’s family were told by a prison official that his body had been transferred to a morgue in the town of Salekhard, a two-hour drive away, and had been picked up by investigators from the investigative committee.

But when Navalny’s mother and his lawyer arrived in Salekhard, Ms Yarmysh said, they found the morgue was closed and a phone number was posted on the door. The morgue director later told them that they did not have the body.

It was the start of a day in which the authorities offered an array of contradictory statements and unclear instructions in what Nalavny’s team claims is a deliberate obfuscation to afford them time to cover up his murder.

Alexei Navalny and his wife Yulia join a march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, in Moscow, on 29 February 2020


“They are trying to cover traces, this is why they are not giving the body to his family and this is why they are just hiding him from them,” Ms Yarmysh told the BBC. “We know for sure that it wasn’t just a death, it was a murder.”

The cause of Navalny’s death remains unclear, though the penal colony where he died told the activist’s mother he died of “sudden death syndrome”, according to a member of his team.

Natalia Arno, the founder of Free Russia, a global body that organises opposition to Putin’s rule, said she believed nothing of what the authorities had said.

“I don’t believe in ‘blood clots’,” she told The Independent. “It was either strangling, beating or poisoning. Some radical way of killing.”

Ms Yarmysh said they were told Navalny’s body would not be handed back to them until an investigation into his death was concluded.

An hour later, they were told that “the investigation had been concluded and that something criminal had not been established” – but Navalny’s body was still not produced.

“They literally lie every time, driving us around in circles and covering their tracks,” she said.

A protester holds a picture of Navalny at a protest opposite the Russian embassy in London

(PA Wire)

Footage showed police officers carrying protesters away from demonstrations in Moscow by the arms and legs in images reminiscent of the suppression of anti-Vladimir Putin movements during his second re-election in 2012.

In the capital, a large group of people chanted “shame” as police dragged a screaming woman from the crowd, video shared on social media showed.

Footage from St Petersburg showed a gathering of dozens by a monument to the victims of repression. Protesters lay flowers and candles, while some sung hymns and others hugged each other, shedding tears.

Police detain a man as he wanted to lay flowers paying their last respect to Alexei Navalny in St Petersburg


More than 10 people were detained in St Petersburg, Putin’s hometown, including a priest who came to conduct a service for Navalny there.

OVD-Info also reported individual arrests in smaller cities across Russia, from the border city of Belgorod, where seven were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike on Thursday, to Vorkuta, an Arctic mining outpost once a centre of the Stalin-era gulag labour camps.

“In each police department there may be more detainees than in the published lists,” OVD-Info said. “We publish only the names of those people about whom we have reliable knowledge and whose names we can publish.”

Overnight, unidentified men watched over by the local police removed tributes to Navalny laid on the Moscow bridge where famous opposition politician Boris Nemstov was murdered in 2015. The pair had been friends; and Mr Nemtsov’s protege Vladimir Kara-Murza is currently serving a 25-year sentence in a Siberian penal colony for spreading “fake news” about the war in Ukraine.

State media, meanwhile, largely avoided reporting on Navalny’s death; any bulletin concerning his death failed to mention his name and often retold only the information relayed by the prison authorities on Friday that Navalny had collapsed suddenly.

“The Kremlin is doing its best to make [Navalny’s] death a complete non-story for the tens of millions of Russians who get their news from its propaganda machine,” said Francis Scarr, an expert in Russian state media.

In Europe, world leaders at the Munich Security Conference in Germany held a minute’s silence for Navalny as UK foreign secretary Lord Cameron pledged to hold the Putin regime to account for the death of the Russian opposition figure.

“There should be consequences. When appalling human rights outrages like this take place, what we do is we look at whether there are individual people that are responsible and whether there are individual measures and actions we can take,” he said.

“We don’t announce them in advance, so I can’t say anything more than that. But that is what we will be looking at.”

G7 foreign ministers also called on Russia to fully clarify the circumstances of the death of Alexei Navalny. “They expressed their outrage at the death in detention of Alexei Navalny, unjustly sentenced for legitimate political activities and his fight against corruption,” according to a statement released by Italy, which is currently chairing the Group of Seven wealthy nations.


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