Russian police crack down on protests over death of Putin critic Alexei Navalny as ‘more than 100 arrested’

17 February 2024, 07:26 | Updated: 17 February 2024, 11:07

At least 100 people have been detained, a human rights group has claimed.
At least 100 people have been detained, a human rights group has claimed. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

Police in Russia have arrested ‘more than 100’ mourners as they crack down on those protesting the death of Russian critic Alexei Navalny, a human rights group has claimed.

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Protesters gathered at vigils across Russia to pay tribute to the renowned Putin critic on Friday.

Photos and videos shared online show officers carrying away protestors from the scene of makeshift memorials in Moscow and St Petersburg for Navalny.

Officers reportedly ripped placards from protestors and journalists in Moscow were filmed being detained.

Russian human rights group, OVD-info, claimed that at least 100 people have been arrested across eight cities including Moscow, St Petersburg and Krasnodar during gatherings to pay tribute to Navalny.

It comes as the spokesman for Navalny, Kira Yarmysh, officially confirmed the Russian opposition leader’s death today.

He died at 2:17pm local time on Friday 16 February, according to a document given to Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila.

His body is currently with investigators, she said, but demanded that his "body be handed over to his family immediately".

Navalny's wife said on Friday Putin should be held responsible for the arch-critic's death.

Yulia Navalnaya said that Putin would "soon" be held "liable" for the death of Navalny, a longstanding critic of the regime, who collapsed after "going for a walk" in custody on Friday aged 47.

Read more: 'Evil' Putin must pay: World leaders speak out against Russia after 'murder' of Alexei Navalny

Read more: Smirking Vladimir Putin seen for first time since arch enemy Alexei Navalny dies while 'going for a walk' in prison

Gatherers at a vigil were seen being carried away by officers.
Gatherers at a vigil were seen being carried away by officers. Picture: Alamy
Prosecutors have warned Russians against attending any mass protest in Moscow.
Prosecutors have warned Russians against attending any mass protest in Moscow. Picture: Alamy

Prosecutors have warned Russians against attending any mass protest in Moscow.

Authorities in Russia have been clearing tributes to the Russian opposition leader on Saturday, according to reports.

Videos in Moscow showed police blocking access to a makeshift vigil at the Solovetsky Stone while men dressed in dark tops with hoods up removedi it.

Men in similar clothing were also spotted removing tributes on the bridge near the Kremlin.

One woman in Moscow told Sky News: “All that is happening over these years, on the territory of my beloved country, is a disgrace.

“I am furious, of course. They have finally killed him.”

Protests have been held across other world cities in the wake of Navalny’s death, as people were seen outside the Russian embassies in London and Berlin chanting against the Russian leader.

Protesters also gathered in Rome, Geneva, Barcelona, Amsterdam and more on Friday.

The grinning tyrant brushed off the world's condemnation of Navalny's death as he met workers at a power plant on Friday.

The circumstances of his death remain unclear, and Ms Navalnaya said she was not even certain that he had died, given the unreliable nature of the information given by the Kremlin.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference, Ms Navalnaya said: "Thank you for the conference organisers that gave me the main stage. You have all probably seen the terrible news that came in today.

Yulia Navalnaya
Yulia Navalnaya. Picture: Getty

Read more: 'Murdered by Putin': Kremlin arch-enemy Alexei Navalny dies after 'going for a walk' in freezing Russian prison

Read more: Vladimir Putin's main political rival Alexei Navalny 'disappears from prison'

"I thought for a long time: 'Is it worth me to come here or to fly to my children straight away?' But then I thought: 'What would Alexei do in my place?' And I'm confident that he would be here, he would be on this stage," she said.

"I don't know whether to believe the news, the terrible news that we are receiving only from the state sources in Russia," she said, adding that Putin and his government are "always lying".

"But if this is true, I would like that Putin and all his coterie, Putin's friends, his government to know that they will be accountable for what they've done to our country, to my family, and to my husband.

"They will be liable for that. That day will come very soon."

Alexei Navalny died in prison
Alexei Navalny died in prison. Picture: Getty

She also called for the world's leaders to focus on defeating Putin's "evil" regime.

Navalnaya said: "I would like to call upon the global community, everyone in this room, people around the world, that we would unite together and overcome that evil, overcome that terrible regime that is currently in Russia.

"That regime and Vladimir Putin have to be personally liable for all the horrible things they are doing to my country, to our country Russia in the last years."

Navalny died on Friday after "going for a walk" in his prison colony, in the Arctic Yamalo-Nenets region of Russia.

His cause of death has not been confirmed, but Russian outlets reported that he suffered a detached blood clot.

Navalny's mother Lyudmila said that her son had appeared well on Monday, the last time she saw him.

She wrote on Facebook: "I don't want to hear any condolences. We saw him in prison on the (February) 12, in a meeting. He was alive, healthy and happy."

Putin on Friday
Putin on Friday. Picture: Getty

Navalny had suffered a series of attacks on his health in recent years.

He was poisoned with Novichok in 2020, and went to Germany for urgent treatment.

On his return to Russia in 2021, he was jailed for violating parole conditions for a 2014 prison sentence, which was widely condemned as a political charge.

He claimed he was being tortured in prison, and his staff said he had been placed in isolation 27 times over a total of 308 days - the latest instance of which was on Wednesday.

He disappeared for several weeks late last year, before reappearing in his Arctic prison.

Sunak pays tribute after death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny

Kremlin critics and Western politicians blamed Putin for his death after the news emerged on Friday morning.

Bill Browder told LBC: "Alexei Navalny was one of the most courageous people in Russia.

“He was ready to call out Putin for who he is which is A criminal, a thief and a murderer.

“For that Putin tried to kill him with chemical nerve agent Novichok in 2020. Here we are in 2024 and they got him.

“He was an extremely healthy vital young man before the poisoning attempt. It’s obvious to me that Alexei Navalny was killed by Putin.”

Mr Browder said later: "Let's make no mistake, Putin assassinated Alexei Navalny. He did so because Alexei Navalny was brave enough to stand up to Putin.   

Watch Again: James O'Brien and Bill Browder on Alexei Navalny's death | 16/02/24

"He did so because Navalny offered the Russian people an alternative to kleptocracy and repression. This is a tragic day for Navalny and his family, but also for Russia and the hope for a better future."

Responding to the news, former oligarch and Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky said: "If this is true, then, regardless of the formal reason, Vladimir Putin personally bears responsibility for his premature death.

Khodorkovsky said that it was Putin that “first authorised the poisoning of Alexei and then put him in prison”.

The EU also blamed the Kremlin for Navalny's death.

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen said: "Putin fears nothing more than dissent from his own people. The world has lost a freedom fighter in Alexei Navalny.

"We will honour his name. And in his name we will stand up for democracy and our values."

Alexei Navalny was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin
Alexei Navalny was an outspoken critic of the Kremlin. Picture: Getty

European Council president Charles Michel said that he "fought for the values of freedom and democracy. For his ideals, he made the ultimate sacrifice."

He added: "The EU holds the Russian regime for sole responsible for this tragic death. I extend my deepest condolences to his family. And to those who fight for democracy around the world in the darkest conditions.

"Fighters die. But the fight for freedom never ends."

US President Joe Biden said Washington does not know exactly what happened, "but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did".

Putin on Friday
Putin on Friday. Picture: Getty

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak described the death as "terrible news", adding: "As the fiercest advocate for Russian democracy, Alexei Navalny demonstrated incredible courage throughout his life."

Foreign Secretary David Cameron said Vladimir Putin "should be accountable for what has happened".

Lord Cameron said: "Navalny fought bravely against corruption. Putin's Russia fabricated charges against him, poisoned him, sent him to an arctic penal colony & now he has tragically died.

"Putin should be accountable for what has happened - no one should doubt the dreadful nature of his regime."

People gather to lay flowers paying their last respect to Alexei Navalny at the at the Wall of Sorrow memorial to victims of political repression in Moscow
People gather to lay flowers paying their last respect to Alexei Navalny at the at the Wall of Sorrow memorial to victims of political repression in Moscow. Picture: Alamy

Former PM Boris Johnson said that Alexei Navalny had been "put to death" by Vladimir Putin.

In a post on X, Mr Johnson said: "No one can be in any doubt that Alexei Navalny has been put to death by Vladimir Putin - simply because he had the courage to oppose the Russian tyrant.

"With this murder Putin plunges new depths of depravity and drags his country further into the darkness."

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said "it is obvious that he was killed by Putin".

"Putin doesn't care who dies - only for him to hold his position," Mr Zelenskyy said.

"This is why he must hold onto nothing. Putin must lose everything and be held responsible for his deeds."

The UK Foreign Office said in a statement that it had summoned the Russian Embassy to make clear that the authorities were being held "fully responsible".

A spokesperson said: "Alexei Navalny dedicated his life to exposing the corruption of the Russian system, calling for free and open politics, and holding the Kremlin to account.

"We stand today with his family, friends, colleagues and supporters. Our thoughts go out to them.

"The Russian authorities saw Mr Navalny as a threat. Many Russian citizens felt he gave them a voice.

"In recent years, the authorities imprisoned him on fabricated charges, poisoned him with a banned nerve agent, and sent him to an Arctic penal colony. No-one should doubt the brutal nature of the Russian system. His death must be investigated fully and transparently.

"The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office today summoned the Russian Embassy to make clear that we hold the Russian authorities fully responsible.

"Mr Navalny was a man of great courage and iron will. Even from his prison cell, he continued to speak up for the rights of the Russian people. His dedication to human rights and exposing corruption was an inspiration to millions. The ideals for which he stood and died will live forever."

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