Alexey Navalny’s team confirms his death, calls for body to be returned

‘Alexey Navalny was murdered’, said a spokesperson for the Putin critic after his mother was officially notified.

A view shows barriers at the entrance to the IK-3 penal colony, where Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny served his jail term and where he died the day before, according to prison authorities, in the settlement of Kharp in the Yamal-Nenets Region, Russia February 17
The entrance to the IK-3 penal colony where Alexey Navalny was jailed - and died, in the Yamal-Nenets region, Russia, February 17, 2024 [Maxim Shemetov/Reuters]

The death of the Russian leader’s biggest opponent, Alexey Navalny, has been confirmed by his team, with his spokesperson saying the Kremlin critic “was murdered”.

Navalny died at 2:17pm (09:17 GMT) on February 16, according to the notice given to his mother, spokesperson Kira Yarmysh wrote on X on Saturday in the first confirmation from his allies.

Yarmysh cited an employee of the “Polar Wolf” Arctic penal colony where the 47-year-old was serving a 19-year sentence as saying his body was picked up by investigators from Russia’s Investigative Committee and was now in the town of Salekhard.

“We demand that Alexey Navalny’s body be handed over to his family immediately,” she said.

The town is near the prison complex where the investigators were conducting “research”, Yarmysh said.

In a subsequent update, Yarmysh said Navalny’s lawyer had been informed that the cause of death had not yet been determined.

A second examination of Navalny’s body has been made and the results, “allegedly”, will be available next week, Yarmysh posted on X. “It’s obvious that they are lying and doing everything they can to avoid handing over the body.”

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, wrote on X that Navalny’s mother had been told by prison officials that her son had perished due to “sudden death syndrome” when she arrived at his former penal colony Saturday with one of Navalny’s lawyers.

The lawyer and Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, went to the local morgue in Salekhard on Saturday, but it was closed and Navalny’s body was not where prison authorities said it was being kept, his spokesperson added.

In an update, Yarmysh said that the authorities will not hand over Navalny’s body to his relatives until the investigation is completed.

She subsequently added: “Only an hour ago, the lawyers were informed that the investigation had been concluded and that something criminal had not been established.

“They literally lie every time, driving us around in circles and covering their tracks,” she wrote.

Russian authorities said on Friday that Navalny fell unconscious and died after a walk in the penal colony in Kharp, about 1,900km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

His death – less than a month before an election that will give Putin another six years in power – has removed Putin of his greatest political foe who organised mass anti-Kremlin protests and crusaded against corruption.

‘His legacy won’t die’

Yarmysh said in an interview that Navalny’s vision for change in Russia will be kept alive by his team.

“We lost our leader, but we didn’t lose our ideas and our beliefs”, Yarmysh told Reuters via Zoom, speaking from an undisclosed location.

Yarmysh, who had worked with Navalny for over a decade, said he represented hope that Russia will be “a proper democratic country with fair elections, with an independent court, with free press… peaceful and wealthy country”.

“Of course everyone is devastated,” she said. “Alexey was a person who resembled all these ideas and who was fighting for them. So, I’m sure that his legacy won’t die with him, and people will return to these ideas.”

She said the team holds Putin responsible for what she called Navalny’s murder.

She did not provide evidence for this but pointed to an incident in 2020 when Navalny survived what Western doctors said was a nerve agent poisoning attempt on his life.

Putin denied at the time that the Russian state had tried to kill Navalny, saying it would have “finished the job” if it had really wanted to eliminate him.

“We knew that there was a risk, Alexey knew it as well. And yesterday they murdered him as they planned to do it three years ago”, Yarmysh said.

She called on Western leaders to “put as much pressure on (Putin) as possible”, to seek justice in response to Navalny’s death and to not negotiate with Putin.

Russian police detained more than 170 people across the country at memorials and rallies on Friday and Saturday that were held to honour Navalny, according to the OVD-Info protest monitoring group, which said 99 people were taken into custody in Saint Petersburg alone.

Strict anti-dissident laws ban protests in Russia, and pro-Navalny rallies have been particularly hit by authorities in the past.

World leaders have condemned the death of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s fierce critic.

United States President Joe Biden has said “Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death” while European Council President Charles Michel has said the European Union “holds the Russian regime for sole responsible for this tragic death”.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies