Navalny allies accuse Russian authorities of 'doing everything they can' to 'avoid' handing body over to family

By Isaac M February 19, 2024

Allies of Alexei Navalny have accused Russian authorities of “doing everything they can” to “avoid” handing his body over to his family.

Spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh confirmed that Mr Navalny – the most prominent face of the Russian opposition to Mr Putin – had died at a remote Arctic penal colony on Friday.

She claimed the 47-year-old had been “murdered”. However, she said lawyers for Mr Navalny had been told by authorities that “no crime had been found” following an investigation.

Meanwhile, Mr Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, on Saturday travelled to the prison where her son was being held up until his death.

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Alexei Navalny in 2018.
Pic: Reuters
Alexei Navalny in 2018. Pic: Reuters

She was told by prison officials that her son died on 16 February at 2.17pm local time as a result of “sudden death syndrome”, according to prominent Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov.

However, authorities have not yet released his body. His family and allies have also been “driven around in circles” attempting to locate it, according to Ms Yarmysh.

She said Mr Navalny’s mother had been told by a prison official that her son’s body had been taken to the nearby city of Salekhard as part of a probe into his death.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, the mother of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, leaves the regional department of Russia's Investigative Committee in the town of Salekhard in the Yamal-Nenets Region, Russia February 17, 2024. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov
Alexei Navalny’s mother has not been able to see her son’s body. Pic: Reuters

But when she and Mr Navalny’s lawyers arrived at the morgue, it was closed, and workers said the body was not there.

Hours later, Ms Yarmysh said lawyers for the politician were told Mr Navalny’s body would not be handed over to his relatives until an investigation into his death had been completed.

“The results will supposedly be available next week. It’s obvious that they are lying and doing everything they can to avoid handing over the body,” she said on X.

She accused the Investigation Committee in Salekhard of “driving us around in circles and covering their tracks” as only hours before they were told the investigation had already been concluded, and nothing criminal had been established.

A woman lays flowers paying the last respect to Alexei Navalny at the at the monument to the victims of soviet occupation in Vilnius, Lithuania, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. Russian authorities say that Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison. He was 47. (AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis)
Pic: AP

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported on Friday that Mr Navalny felt sick after a walk and became unconscious at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region, which is within the Arctic Circle.

More than 400 detained in Russia

Meanwhile, more than 400 people have been detained in Russia since the moment Mr Navalny’s death became public, according to independent human rights organisation OVD-Info.

The arrests, at least half of which were made on Saturday, were made across 32 Russian cities.

Police detain a man as he wanted to lay flowers paying their last respect to Alexei Navalny at the monument, a large boulder from the Solovetsky islands, where the first camp of the Gulag political prison system was established, in St. Petersburg, Russia on Saturday, Feb. 17, 2024. Russian authorities say that Alexei Navalny, the fiercest foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests, died in prison. He was 47. (AP Photo
Pic: AP

Police officers detain a man during a gathering in memory of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny near the Wall of Grief monument to the victims of political repressions in Moscow, Russia February 17, 2024. REUTERS/Stringer TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Pic: Reuters

OVD-Info said others had been detained the day before when they came to lay flowers in memory of Mr Navalny.

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Among the held included a priest who went to a memorial in St Petersburg to conduct a service in the politician’s memory.

From Georgia to Germany, people mourn for Navalny

In Russia, authorities moved swiftly to crush any possible resistance in Alexei Navalny’s name; detaining supporters at memorials and trying to sweep away the flowers they left.

But beyond their borders, they couldn’t stop the crowds.

From Georgia to Germany, thousands gathered for Mr Navalny.

In the shadow of the Russian embassy in Berlin, a steady stream of people arrived to lay flowers below a picture of the 47-year-old activist.

I watched a group of three Russian friends huddled to light their candle in the wind.

They told me they had come to pay their respects, acutely aware it was an act being punished back home.

“A lot of my friends want to take flowers for Navalny in Moscow but they can’t do that. I want to do this for my friends and for me,” Polina said.

Among the grieving was Elena who stood quietly as tears rolled down her face.

“He was the last hope of freedom, of peace in Russia. I guess there is no hope anymore,” she explained.

Like Elena, many today said they are not just mourning a man but what he represented to Russia: hope of resistance and change.

In Moscow, social media footage showed a large group of people chanting “shame” as police dragged a screaming woman from the crowd.

Putin ‘should be held accountable’

Hours after Mr Navalny’s death was reported, his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, made a dramatic appearance at a security conference in Germany where many world leaders had gathered.

She said that she was unsure if she could believe the news from official Russian sources, “but if this is true, I want Putin and everyone around Putin, Putin’s friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family and to my husband”.

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US President Joe Biden was also asked about the news while out in Delaware and said: “I’ve heard several things, I haven’t had it confirmed.

“But the fact of the matter is, Putin is responsible. Whether he ordered it, he’s responsible for the circumstances they put that man in. And it’s a reflection of who he is.

“It just cannot be tolerated.”

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Starmer: ‘Navalny was incredibly courageous’

Reacting, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said he was “moved” by Mrs Navalnaya’s words, adding that Russia has to be held to account.

It came after the UK’s Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron said: “We should hold Putin accountable for this. And no one should be in any doubt about the dreadful nature of Putin’s regime in Russia after what has just happened.”

Foreign ministers of the G7 – made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and US – have called on Russia to fully clarify the circumstances of Mr Navalny’s death.


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