Russia Hands Over Body of Dissident Alexei Navalny to Family

(AP) – The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been handed over to his mother, a senior member of Navalny’s inner circle announced on his social media account Saturday.

Ivan Zhdanov, chairman of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, made the announcement on his Telegram account, thanking “everyone” who called on Russian authorities to return Navalny’s body to his mother.

Earlier on Saturday, Mr Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, accused President Vladimir Putin of mocking Christianity by trying to force his mother to agree to a secret funeral after his death in an Arctic penal colony. criticized.

“Thank you very much. Thank you to everyone who wrote and recorded video messages. You all did what you had to do. Thank you. The body of Mr. Alexei Navalny was handed over to his mother,” Zhdanov said. wrote.

Navalny, 47, Russia’s best-known opposition politician, died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony on February 16, and his family has been fighting for more than a week to have his body returned. Celebrities in Russia have released videos calling on authorities to release the body, and Western countries have imposed additional sanctions on Russia as punishment for Navalny’s death and the second anniversary of the invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, remains in Salekhard, his spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on X (formerly Twitter). Lyudmila Navalnaya has been in the Arctic region for more than a week, demanding that Russian authorities return her son’s body.

“The funeral is still pending,” Yarmysh tweeted, questioning whether authorities would allow the funeral to take place “as the family wishes and as Alexei deserves.”

Earlier Saturday, Navalny’s widow said in a video that his mother was being “literally tortured” by authorities who threatened to bury him in an Arctic prison. Navalnaya said they suggested to her mother that her body was decomposing and that she might not have much time to make a decision.

“Please give us my husband’s body,” Navalnaya said early Saturday. “You tortured him alive and continue to torture him now. You are mocking the bodies of the dead.”

Navalny, 47, Russia’s best-known opposition politician, died suddenly in a penal colony on February 16, and hundreds of Russians across the country laid flowers and candles at an impromptu memorial service.

Authorities are detaining scores of people in a bid to quell an outpouring of sympathy for President Putin’s deadliest enemy ahead of a presidential election in which he is almost certain to win. Russians have claimed on social media that authorities do not want to return Navalny’s body to his family for fear of public displays of support for him.

Navalny accused Putin, an Orthodox Christian, of killing Navalny.

“A true Christian would never do what President Putin is currently doing to Alexei’s body,” she said, asking, “What are you going to do with his body?” How far are you willing to go to mock the man you killed? ”

Saturday marked the ninth day since the opposition leader’s death, and was the day Orthodox Christians held a memorial service.

People across Russia marked the occasion by gathering in Orthodox churches, laying flowers at public monuments and holding solo protests to honor Navalny’s memory.

Muscovites lined up outside the city’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior to pay their respects, according to photos and videos published by Russian independent news outlet SOTAvision. The video also shows Russian police stationed nearby and officers stopping several people for ID checks.

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

Among them was Sergei Karabatov, 64, who laid flowers at a memorial to victims of political repression in Moscow and a handwritten note that read: “Don’t think this is the end.” Aida Nurieva, from the city of Ufa near the Ural Mountains, was also arrested as she stood in the street holding a sign that read: “Putin is Navalny’s killer!” We demand the return of the body! ”

Putin is often photographed immersing himself in ice water in churches to celebrate Epiphany and visiting Russia’s holy sites. He has promoted what he calls “traditional values,” without which “society would deteriorate,” he once said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied allegations that Putin was involved in Navalny’s death, calling them “completely baseless and irreverent accusations about the Russian head of state.”

Musician Nadya Tolokonnikova rose to fame in 2012 after participating in a protest with her band Pussy Riot inside Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Savior and spending nearly two years in prison. She was one of many prominent Russians who released videos accusing her. President Putin denounced hypocrisy and called for Navalny’s body to be released.

“We were imprisoned for allegedly trampling on traditional values. But I want to thank you, President Putin, and your officials and others who pray for all the murders you commit every day, every year. “No one tramples on traditional Russian values ​​more than priests,” said Tolokonnikova, who lives abroad. “President Putin, have a conscience and give the body of your son to his mother.”

Lyudmila Navalnaya said Thursday that investigators had allowed her to view her son’s body at a morgue in the Arctic city of Salekhard. She had filed a lawsuit in Salekhard’s court challenging the authorities’ refusal to release her body. A closed-door hearing was scheduled for March 4.

Mr Navalny’s spokesman, Mr Yarmysh, said he had shown Lyudmila Navalnaya a medical certificate stating that her son had died of “natural causes”.

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