Alexei Navalny’s body turned over to his mother for burial in Russia

RIGA, Latvia — Russian authorities handed over the body of opposition leader Alexei Navalny to his mother on Saturday after a week-long fight to get it back, his political team said.

Dozens of Russian celebrities, artists, activists and journalists had recorded video calls in recent days for President Vladimir Putin to hand over Navalny’s body to his family, and more than 98,000 Russians signed a petition organized by the legal rights group OVD-Info.

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Earlier Saturday, Navalny’s daughter, Dasha Navalnaya, 23, also joined the campaign. to post on X, formerly Twitter, “Give my daddy’s body to grandmother.”

Announcing the breakthrough, Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s press secretary, said it was unclear whether authorities would interfere with the funeral arrangements.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, has said that it is her wish that he be flown to Moscow for a public farewell service, as is the tradition in Russia, and that his funeral and burial will take place at the Troyekurovskoye Cemetery, where many prominent Russians, including opposition members, have been laid to rest.

Navalnaya previously said that Russia’s Investigative Committee, the main federal investigative authority, had pressured her to agree to a small, private funeral with only family members present.

“The funeral is yet to come. We don’t know if the authorities will prevent it from being held in the way the family wants and in the way Alexei deserves. We will report information as it becomes available,” Yarmysh said. She thanked the thousands of Russians who supported Navalnaya’s campaign to recover her son’s body.

Navalny, 47, was Putin’s most formidable rival and one of the country’s most prominent political prisoners. He was imprisoned for his campaign for a free and democratic Russia and died on February 16 in the ‘Polar Wolf’ prison in the Yamalo-Nenets region north of the Arctic Circle.

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Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, had accused Putin of killing her husband and delayed handing over the body to cover up the cause of death. The death certificate issued later in the week listed his cause of death as “natural causes.”

On Friday, it appeared that Russian officials would not give the body to the family at all, instead threatening to bury it in icy ground in the remote northern prison colony, according to the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, Ivan Zhdanov.

If he did, his family and supporters would have been denied the right to a funeral and farewell ceremony and his grave would not have become a place where Russians could pay tribute to Navalny and his courage in standing up to Putin.

After Lyudmila Navalnaya traveled to the prison to retrieve the body on February 17, she faced an eight-day, Kafkaesque battle with Investigative Committee officials to take her son to burial.

At first, she and her lawyers faced a brick wall, with officials denying them access to the morgue and refusing to even tell them where the body was being held. One prison official initially told her that her son had died of “sudden death syndrome.”

Days later, with the official cause of death listed as ‘natural causes’, officials from the Commission of Inquiry showed her the body late at night. But with no lawyers present, they put intense pressure on her to agree to a small private funeral, threatening that his body would decompose if she did not accept their terms.

On Thursday, she released a video saying that officials “blackmailed me and imposed conditions on where, when and how Alexei should be buried. This is illegal.”

On Friday, she was given a three-hour ultimatum and told that Navalny would be buried in the prison colony without her consent unless she agreed to a private funeral, Zhdanov said.

But still she didn’t agree.

The decision to give Lyudmila Navalnaya her son’s body marked a rare victory for someone confronting Russian officialdom, but it also indicated the extent to which the inappropriate public standoff was damaging the Kremlin.

Earlier Saturday, Yulia Navalnaya, dressed in black, recorded a somber video message attacking Putin’s professed religious piety as a sham, blaming him both for her husband’s “murder” and refusing to dispose of the body. give for burial.

“But murder was not enough for Putin. Now [Navalny’s] body is being held hostage. He mocks his mother and forces her to agree to a secret funeral,” she said. “… They threaten to bury him in the colony where they killed him.”

She said officials had “tortured” Lyudmila Navalnaya for days with lies and threats. The order to “break” Navalnaya’s mother allegedly came directly from Putin, and not from an official of the investigative committee in Salekhard, the town 53 kilometers away from the prison where he died, she continued. Navalny’s body has been held at the Salekhard mortuary since the night of his death.

Yulia Navalnaya said Putin was now exposed as a fraudster.

“We already knew that Putin’s faith was false. But now we see it more clearly than ever before,” she said. “No true Christian could ever do what Putin is doing to Alexei’s body.”

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