Alexei Navalny’s team confirms death and calls for body to be returned to family

17 February 2024, 19:44

A woman touches a photo of Alexei Navalny after laying flowers paying the last respects to him at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St Petersburg, Russia
APTOPIX Russia Navalny. Picture: PA

The cause and the circumstances of the Russian opposition leader’s death on Friday remain largely unclear.

Alexei Navalny’s spokesperson has confirmed that the Russian opposition leader died at a remote Arctic penal colony and said he was “murdered”, but it is unclear where his body is.

An official note handed to Mr Navalny’s mother stated that he died at 2.17pm local time on Friday, Kira Yarmysh said.

She added that an employee of the prison colony said that Mr Navalny’s body was taken to the nearby city of Salekhard as part of a probe into his death.

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that Mr Navalny’s mother had been told by prison officials that her son had perished due to “sudden death syndrome” when she arrived at his former penal colony on Saturday with one of the politician’s lawyers.

A car carrying Lyudmila Navalnaya, mother of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, arrives at the prison colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region about 1,900 kilometres (1,200 miles) north-east of Moscow, Russia
A car carrying Lyudmila Navalnaya arrives at the prison colony in the town of Kharp (AP)

When a lawyer and Mr Navalny’s mother visited the mortuary in Salekhard, it was closed, Mr Navalny’s team wrote on its Telegram channel.

The lawyer called the mortuary and was told that Mr Navalny’s body is not there, his team said.

Another of Mr Navalny’s lawyers went to Salekhard’s Investigative Committee and was told that the cause of Mr Navalny’s death has not yet been established and that new investigations are being done with the results to be released next week, Ms Yarmysh said.

“It’s obvious that they are lying and doing everything they can to avoid handing over the body,” she wrote on X, formerly Twitter, adding that his team “demand that Alexei Navalny’s body be handed over to his family immediately”.

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported 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 about 1,900 kilometres (1,200 miles) north-east of Moscow.

An ambulance arrived, but he could not be revived.

The cause of death is still “being established”, it said.

A woman lays flowers paying the last respects to Alexei Navalny at the monument where the first camp of the Gulag political prison system was established, with the historical the Federal Security Service (FSB, Soviet KGB successor) building in the background, in Moscow, Russia
A woman lays flowers at the monument where the first camp of the Gulag political prison system was established, with the Federal Security Service (FSB, Soviet KGB successor) building in the background, in Moscow (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Maria Pevchikh, head of the board of Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that the opposition leader would “live on forever in millions of hearts”.

“Navalny was murdered. We still don’t know how we’ll keep on living, but together, we’ll think of something,” she wrote on X.

Arrests continued on Saturday after more than 359 people were detained in various Russian cities on Friday when they came to lay flowers in memory of Mr Navalny at memorials to the victims of Soviet-era purges, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia.

The tributes were removed overnight, but people continued trickling in with flowers on Saturday.

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

More than 10 people were detained at a memorial in St Petersburg, including a priest who came to conduct a service for Mr Navalny there.

Police detain a man as he wants 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
Police detain a man in St Petersburg, Russia (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

In other cities across the country, police cordoned off some of the memorials and officers were taking pictures of those who came and writing down their personal data in a clear intimidation attempt.

Mr Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin.

He was later convicted three times, saying each case was politically motivated, and received a sentence of 19 years for extremism.

After the last verdict, Mr Navalny said he understood he was “serving a life sentence, which is measured by the length of my life or the length of life of this regime”.

The news of Mr Navalny’s death comes less than a month before an election that will give President Vladimir Putin another six years in power.

A police officer watches as a man lays flowers paying the last respects to Alexei Navalny at the monument where the first camp of the Gulag political prison system was established, in St Petersburg, Russia
A police officer watches as a man lays flowers at the monument where the first camp of the Gulag political prison system was established, in St Petersburg (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

It shows “that the sentence in Russia now for opposition is not merely imprisonment, but death”, said Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus and senior fellow for Russia and Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

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 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”.

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”.

The Kremlin bristled at the outpouring of anger from world leaders, with Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov noting that medics have not issued their verdict on the cause of Mr Navalny’s death.

By Press Association

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