Family demand body of Alexei Navalny to be handed over ‘immediately’

Navalny’s body was taken to Salekhard, the town near the prison complex, by Russian investigators

Alexander Marrow,Tom Watling
Saturday 17 February 2024 11:48 GMT
Navalny's mother seen near Russian penal colony where he died

Alexei Navalny’s spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh has confirmed that the Russian opposition figure is dead, citing an official notice given to Navalny’s mother, Lydumila.

Navalny, a 47-year-old former lawyer, fell unconscious and died on Friday after a walk at the “Polar Wolf” Arctic penal colony in Kharp, about 1,900 km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, where he was serving a three-decade sentence, Russian authorities said.

Yarmysh, writing on X, formerly known as Twitter, said Navalny had died at 2:17 pm local time (0917 GMT) on February 16, according to the notice given to his mother.

A portrait of jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny and flowers are placed as people demonstrate near to Russian embassy to France (AP)

Russia investigators told Mr Navalny’s lawyer and his mother that his body had been taken to taken to Salekhard, the town near the prison complex, by Russian investigatorswho were conducting “research”, Yarmysh said.

But in a recent update, it has been reported that the only morgue in the town says it does not have Mr Nalavny’s body.

“Alexey's lawyer and his mother have arrived at the Salekhard morgue. It's closed, however, the colony has assured them it's working and Navalny's body is there,” Yarmysh said.

“The lawyer called the phone number which was on the door. He was told he was the seventh caller today. Alexey's body is not in the morgue.”

She had previously publicly demanded for Alexei Navalny’s body to be given to his family immediately.

Lyudmila Navalnaya, Navalny’s mother travelled to the prison where her son had been held on Saturday, accompanied by Navalny’s lawyer, the Novaya Gazeta newspaper reported.

The IK-3 penal colony in Kharp is situated in the Arctic Circle, around a one-hour drive from Salekhard, the administrative capital of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District.

Russian dissidents have expressed concern that the prison authorities will use the next few days of alleged investigation to hide any signs of potential foul play on Mr Nalavny’s body.

Natalia Arno, founder of Free Russia, an organisation funding opposition to the Putin regime across the world said she believed the authorities will try to erase any traces of an alleged killing.

“It’s so mean it has been done on Friday,” she told The Independent. “They [prison authorities] will probably allow the lawyers to get in the prison only on Monday and they will have enough time to hide any traces of their crime.”

Russian prison authorities said on Friday Navalny had died after having “felt unwell after a walk, almost immediately losing consciousness”.

"Navalny's death is very beneficial to Putin's opponents," said Sergei Markov, a former Kremlin adviser.

"They will use it to undermine the legitimacy of the presidential election in Russia, use it to not recognise Putin as the legitimate president. They are trying to present Putin not as the president of a hostile country, but as a criminal with whom no one should have to deal."

It comes as hundreds of flowers and candles laid in Moscow on Friday to honour the memory of Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, were taken away overnight in black bags.

In central Moscow, several dozen roses and carnations remained in the softening snow on Saturday at the monument to the victims of Soviet repression, which sits in the shadow of the former KGB headquarters on Lubyanka Square.

Vladimir Nikitin, 36, was alone laying a carnation at the Solovetsky Stone, which hails from the islands with the same name in the White Sea where one of the first “Gulag” forced labour camps was founded in 1923 by the Bolsheviks.

Policemen looked on.

When asked for an interview by Reuters, Nikitin asked to speak in the underpass which threads beneath Lubyanka Square, citing the fear of detention.

“Navalny’s death is terrible: hopes have been smashed,” Nikitin said.

“Navalny was a very serious man, a brave man and now he is no longer with us. He spoke the truth - and that was very dangerous because some people didn’t like the truth.”

At the “Wall of Sorrow” memorial on the avenue named after Soviet physicist and dissent Andrei Sakharov, some Russians laid flowers beside pictures of Navalny. One message read: “We will not forget, nor shall we forgive.”

“I came because I have grief,” said Arkady, who declined to give his second name. “He was a man who I respected. I had hopes that he was someone who could do something in the future.”

At least 177 people were detained at events in Russia on Friday and Saturday in memory of Navalny, according to rights group OVD-Info.

OVD-Info, which reports on freedom of assembly in Russia, said more than 177 people in 21 cities across Russia had been detained at spontaneous rallies and vigils as of 1030 GMT on Saturday.

OVD-Info said that 99 people had been detained in St Petersburg and 11 in Moscow, the country's two largest cities, where Navalny's mostly educated and urban supporters had been concentrated.

The group also reported individual arrests in smaller cities across Russia, from the border city of Belgorod, where seven were killed in a Ukrainian missile strike on Thursday, to Vorkuta, an Arctic mining outpost once a centre of the Stalin-era gulag labour camps.

"In each police department there may be more detainees than in the published lists," OVD-Info said. "We publish only the names of those people about whom we have reliable knowledge and whose names we can publish."

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