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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s body finally handed over to his mother

The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has finally been handed over to his mother, his spokesperson has said.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, 69, has been given the body of her son, Kira Yarmysh said on Saturday, more than a week after he died in an Arctic prison on 16 February.

A number of Western leaders have accused Vladimir Putin and the Russian authorities of killing Navalny, the Russian president’s most prominent critic, although the accusations have been strongly denied by the Kremlin.

The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has finally been handed over to his mother, his spokesperson has said (AP)
The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has finally been handed over to his mother, his spokesperson has said (AP)

It comes after Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, earlier on Saturday accused Putin of “satanism” and mocking Christianity by trying to force her late husband’s mother to agree to a secret funeral.

Lyudmila said on Thursday that, when she was finally shown her son’s body, Russian officials had sought to “blackmail” her, telling her they would “do something” to his remains if she did not agree to bury him in a secret ceremony without mourners.

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, on Saturday, Ms Yarmysh wrote: “Alexey’s body was handed over to his mother. Many thanks to all those who demanded this with us.

“Lyudmila Ivanovna is still in Salekhard. The funeral is still pending. We do not know if the authorities will interfere to carry it out as the family wants and as Alexey deserves. We will inform you as soon as there is news.”

Lyudmila Navalnaya, 69, has been given the body of her son more than a week after he died (Navalny Team)
Lyudmila Navalnaya, 69, has been given the body of her son more than a week after he died (Navalny Team)

Yulia previously said she believes her husband was poisoned and that Russian authorities were keeping hold of the body to let traces of the nerve agent novichok leave his system. “My husband was unbreakable. And that’s precisely why Putin killed him,” she said earlier this week.

Navalny, who was 47, was moved to the remote “Polar Wolf” Arctic prison late last year, having been sentenced on multiple charges that the international community and his supporters believe were trumped up in an attempt to silence him.

The Russian opposition leader’s death came a month before a presidential election in which Mr Putin is expected easily to claim re-election – a vote that Navalny repeatedly railed against, even in prison, as he began a 19-year sentence.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin of mocking Christianity by trying to force her husband’s mother to agree to a secret funeral (AP)
Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, accused Putin of mocking Christianity by trying to force her husband’s mother to agree to a secret funeral (AP)

In a video released earlier on Saturday, Yulia had demanded the release of her husband’s body in the latest of a series of appeals, saying Lyudmila was being “literally tortured” by Russian authorities who had threatened to bury Navalny in the Arctic prison.

“Give us the body of my husband,” she said. “You tortured him alive, and now you keep torturing him dead. You mock the remains of the dead.”

Saturday marks nine days since the opposition leader’s death – the day on which Orthodox Christians traditionally hold a memorial service.

People across Russia came out to mark the occasion and honour Navalny’s memory by gathering at Orthodox churches, leaving flowers at public monuments, or holding one-person protests.

The authorities have detained scores of people as they seek to suppress any major outpouring of sympathy for Putin’s fiercest foe.

A woman lays flowers for Navalny at the Solovetsky Stone, a monument to political repression and one of the locations where tributes have been left by Russians for the late opposition leader (AFP via Getty)
A woman lays flowers for Navalny at the Solovetsky Stone, a monument to political repression and one of the locations where tributes have been left by Russians for the late opposition leader (AFP via Getty)

As of early Saturday afternoon, at least 27 had been detained in nine Russian cities for showing support for Navalny, according to the OVD-Info rights group, which tracks political arrests.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has rejected allegations that Mr Putin was involved in Navalny’s death, calling them “absolutely unfounded, insolent accusations about the head of the Russian state”.

The opposition leader’s team said on X/Twitter on Thursday that Navalny’s death certificate says he died of natural causes, while they have accused the Russian state of murdering him. The Russian authorities said, when announcing his death last week, that he had fallen unconscious and died suddenly while out for a walk.

Navalny had been behind bars since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow from Germany, where he had been given life-saving treatment after being poisoned with novichok – an attack he blamed on the Kremlin.

The Russian president himself has yet to say anything about Navalny’s death (Sputnik)
The Russian president himself has yet to say anything about Navalny’s death (Sputnik)

Western leaders have lined up to condemn the Kremlin over the killing of Navalny. Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, used a meeting at the G20 summit in Rio de Janeiro to confront his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, and say to his face that Russia had murdered the opposition leader. Lord Cameron said Mr Lavrov had refused to meet his gaze and instead looked at his phone.

Speaking to the BBC, Lord Cameron said that representatives of France, Canada and Germany had joined him in using a speech at the summit to name Navalny and to say they hold President Putin, and the Russian state at large, responsible for his murder. The meeting occurred behind closed doors, with each of the leaders present allowed five minutes to speak.

On Wednesday, the UK froze the assets of six Russian prison bosses in charge of the “Polar Wolf” prison colony, becoming the first country to issue sanctions over the killing of Navalny – and said that those responsible for his “brutal treatment” will be held to account.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears via a video link from the Arctic penal colony in Kharp (AP)
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny appears via a video link from the Arctic penal colony in Kharp (AP)

Lyudmila Navalnaya travelled to the remote IK-3 prison after her son’s death was announced last Friday, but was prevented from seeing his body for almost a week, while the Kremlin appeared to be trying to ensure that a funeral for Navalny did not turn into a public show of support for his ideals.

On Tuesday, she appealed to Mr Putin directly in a video, saying: “Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexei’s body be released immediately so that I can bury him in a humane way.”

More than 75,000 people submitted requests to the government asking for his remains to be handed over to his relatives, according to human rights group OVD-Info.

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny embraces his wife Yulia after being released by a court in Kirov, Russia in July 2013 (AP)
Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny embraces his wife Yulia after being released by a court in Kirov, Russia in July 2013 (AP)

In a nine-minute video released earlier in the week, Yulia said Navalny had been killed because Mr Putin couldn’t “break him”, and vowed to continue his political activism.

“I want to live in a free Russia; I want to build a free Russia,” she said. “I urge you to stand next to me. I ask you to share the rage with me. Rage, anger, hatred towards those who dared to kill our future.”

The Russian president himself has yet to say anything about Navalny’s death, although, after a flight on board a new military aircraft that is capable of carrying nuclear warheads, he described comments from Joe Biden that he was a “crazy SOB” as “rude”.