Week After Death, Russian Oppn Leader Navalny’s Body Handed Over To Mother, Team Confirms

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s body has been handed over to his mother more than a week after his demise in an Arctic prison colony, as stated by his spokesperson on Saturday. Navalny, a prominent critic of President Vladimir Putin, passed away on February 16 in a high-security prison in northern Siberia, where he was serving a 19-year sentence on charges widely perceived as politically motivated retaliation for his opposition.

Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said on X (formerly Twitter), “Alexei’s body was handed over to his mother. Many thanks to all those who demanded this with us”. 

According to an AFP report, for over a week, Russian authorities had withheld custody of Navalny’s body from Lyudmila Navalnaya, even after her journey to Salekhard, the nearest settlement to the prison colony where Navalny died.

On Friday, Navalny’s team reported filing a lawsuit to secure the body, alleging that local investigators had threatened a “secret” funeral on the prison grounds if his mother did not agree.

Yarmysh said that the details about the funeral is uncertain yet, stating, “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 Alexei deserves”. 

Earlier, Navalny’s team had claimed the Kremlin’s attempt to obstruct a public funeral, fearing it could become a show of support for Navalny’s movement and opposition to Putin.

President Putin, who has never publicly mentioned Navalny’s name, has not commented on the death of his prominent critic. According to AFP, his spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, slammed statements blaming Putin for Navalny’s death as “vulgar”. 

Russian authorities attributed Navalny’s death to “natural causes” after he lost consciousness following a walk in the prison colony named “Polar Wolf.” However, Navalny’s team alleged that investigators withheld his body, refusing his mother access, leading to accusations that the state was attempting to “cover their tracks.”

Thousands of Russians signed a petition for the release of Navalny’s body, while numerous cultural figures urged the same in video messages.

Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s wife, accused Putin of “satanism” for hindering the return of her husband’s body in a video published on Saturday. “What Putin is doing now is hatred. No, not even hatred, it’s some kind of satanism,” she stated.

Navalny’s death sparked outcry among Russia’s opposition and Western leaders. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau joined those pointing fingers at the Kremlin, saying, “Putin pretends to be powerful, but truly powerful leaders do not assassinate their opponents”. 

Russian police have arrested hundreds of mourners at impromptu memorials to Navalny over the past week. Navalny rose to prominence through anti-corruption campaigning, exposing alleged corruption within Putin’s circle through YouTube films. Arrested upon his return to Russia in 2021, he continued his campaign from jail, witnessing the dismantling of his organisation and the persecution of his allies.