Hundreds detained in Russia as country mourns death of Putin foe Alexei Navalny

18 February 2024, 19:54

Floral tributes
Floral tributes. Picture: PA

The 47-year-old died suddenly at a remote prison colony on Friday.

More than 300 people have been detained in Russia while paying tribute to opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died at a remote Arctic penal colony, a prominent rights group reported.

The sudden death of Mr Navalny, 47, was a crushing blow to many Russians who had pinned their hopes for the future on President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest opponent.

Mr Navalny maintained his criticism of the Kremlin even after surviving a nerve agent poisoning and receiving multiple prison terms.

The news reverberated across the globe, with many world leaders blaming the death on Mr Putin and his government.

Navalny tributes
Police officers stand guard as a woman lays flowers at a makeshift memorial to Alexei Navalny in St Petersburg (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

In an exchange with reporters shortly after leaving a Saturday church service, US President Joe Biden said: “The fact of the matter is, Putin is responsible. Whether he ordered it, he’s responsible for the circumstance.

“It’s a reflection of who he is. It cannot be tolerated.”

Other politicians took a more cautious stance. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said he would not “jump to conclusions”, adding: “If the death is under suspicion, we must first carry out an investigation to find out what the citizen (Navalny) died of.”

Mr Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, published a picture of the couple on Instagram in her first social media post since her husband’s death. The caption read simply: “I love you.”

Hundreds of people in dozens of Russian cities streamed to ad-hoc memorials and monuments to victims of political repression with flowers and candles on Friday and Saturday to pay tribute to the politician.

Police had detained 366 people in 39 cities by Sunday evening, according to the OVD-Info rights group which tracks political arrests and provides legal aid.

Earlier in the weekend, the group reported 401 detentions in two days, but later updated the number and said the count “may change both up and down over the next few days” as information is verified.

Prison colony
The entrance to the prison colony where Alexei Navalny died (AP)

More than 200 arrests were made in St Petersburg, Russia’s second largest city, the group said. By Sunday evening, court officials in St Petersburg reported rulings ordering 85 of those detained to serve from one to 12 days in jail.

Among those detained was Grigory Mikhnov-Voitenko, a priest of the Apostolic Orthodox Church — a religious group independent of the Russian Orthodox Church — who announced plans on social media to hold a memorial service for Mr Navalny and was arrested on Saturday morning outside his home.

He was charged with organising a rally and placed in a holding cell in a police precinct, but was later admitted hospital with a stroke, OVD-Info reported.

Memorial events also took place in cities across the world.

In Berlin, members of the Russian activist group Pussy Riot held a demonstration outside the Russian Embassy, holding banners that read “murderers” in English and Russian.

The group, which included Pussy Riot members Nadya Tolokonnikova and Lusya Shtein, as well as long-time Navalny ally Lyubov Sobol and former Russian state media journalist Marina Ovsyannikova, planned to march with the banner to the city’s Brandenburg Gate but were ultimately stopped by police.

Ms Tolokonnikova told the Associated Press after the demonstration that such actions are meant to show “that we exist”.

Navalny tributes
Memorials have sprung up across the world to Alexei Navalny, including near the Russian consulate in Frankfurt, Germany (Michael Probst/AP)

“We show ourselves to each other and support each other, and show with this action that Russia still has a future, and the idea of a ‘beautiful Russia of the future’ hasn’t died,” she said, using a term Mr Navalny famously coined.

“Right now (some are) saying that hope died together with Navalny. But it seems to me that with (the death of) Navalny it wasn’t the hope that died, but rather responsibility was born,” she added.

Dozens of people in Romania’s capital of Bucharest gathered outside the Russian Embassy on Sunday to pay tribute to the opposition leader.

Many lit candles and placed flowers next to a memorial portrait of Mr Navalny, while several people brandished placards that read: “You don’t win free elections by murdering the opposition.”

In Finland, a group of Russian residents gathered signatures for a petition proposing a name change for a park next the Russian Embassy in the capital Helsinki to Navalny Park.

The news of Mr Navalny’s death came a month before a presidential election in Russia which is widely expected to give Mr Putin another six years in power.

Questions about the cause of death lingered, and it remains unclear when the authorities will release Mr Navalny’s body. More than 29,000 people have submitted requests to the Russian government asking for the politician’s remains to be handed over to his relatives, OVD-Info said.

Navalny tributes
Many Russians had pinned their hopes for the future on Alexei Navalny (Aurelien Morissard/AP)

Mr Navalny’s team said on Saturday that the politician was murdered and accused authorities of deliberately stalling the release of the body. His mother and lawyers received contradictory information from various institutions they visited in their quest to retrieve the body.

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported that Mr Navalny felt sick after a walk on Friday and became unconscious at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,200 miles north east of Moscow. An ambulance arrived, but he could not be revived, the service said, adding that the cause of death is still “being established”.

He had been jailed since January 2021 when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. He had received three prison terms since his arrest, on a number of charges he rejected as politically motivated.

Hours after his death was reported, his widow made a dramatic appearance at the Munich Security Conference.

Ms Navalnaya said 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.”

By Press Association

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