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Alexei Navalny's body has been handed over to his mother, an aide says

A woman places a piece of paper with words of grief for Alexei Navalny paying the last respect to him at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday.
Dmitri Lovetsky
/
AP
A woman places a piece of paper with words of grief for Alexei Navalny paying the last respect to him at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia, on Saturday.

The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been handed over to his mother, a top aide to Navalny said Saturday on his social media account.

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, made the announcement on his Telegram account and thanked "everyone" who had called on Russian authorities to return Navalny's body to his mother.

Earlier Saturday, Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny's widow, 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.

"Thank you very much. Thanks to everyone who wrote and recorded video messages. You all did what you needed to do. Thank you. Alexei Navalny's body has been given to his mother," Zhdanov wrote.

Navalny, 47, Russia's most well-known opposition politician, unexpectedly died on Feb. 16 in an Arctic penal colony and his family have been fighting for more than a week to have his body returned to them. Prominent Russians released videos calling on authorities to release the body and Western nations have hit Russia with more sanctions as punishment for Navalny's death as well as for the second anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine.

Navalny's mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, is still in Salekhard, Navalny's press secretary 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 the body of her son to her.

"The funeral is still pending," Yarmysh tweeted, questioning whether authorities will allow it to go ahead "as the family wants and as Alexei deserves."

Earlier Saturday, Navalny's widow said in a video that Navalny's mother was being "literally tortured" by authorities who had threatened to bury Navalny in the Arctic prison. They, she said, suggested to his mother that she did not have much time to make a decision because the body is decomposing, Navalnaya said.

"Give us the body of my husband," Navalnaya said earlier Saturday. "You tortured him alive, and now you keep torturing him dead. You mock the remains of the dead."

Navalny, 47, Russia's most well-known opposition politician, unexpectedly died on Feb. 16 in the penal colony, prompting hundreds of Russians across the country to stream to impromptu memorials with flowers and candles.

Authorities have detained scores of people as they seek to suppress any major outpouring of sympathy for Putin's fiercest foe before the presidential election he is almost certain to win. Russians on social media say officials don't want to return Navalny's body to his family, because they fear a public show of support for him.

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

"No true Christian could ever do what Putin is now doing with the body of Alexei," she said, asking, "What will you do with his corpse? How low will you sink to mock the man you murdered?"

Saturday marked nine days since the opposition leader's death, a day when Orthodox Christians hold a memorial service.

People across Russia came out to mark the occasion and honor Navalny's memory by gathering at Orthodox churches, leaving flowers at public monuments or holding one-person protests.

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

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

They included Sergei Karabatov, 64, who laid flowers at a Moscow monument to victims of political repression, along with a handwritten note saying "Don't think this is the end." Also arrested was Aida Nuriyeva, from the city of Ufa near the Ural Mountains, who stood in a street with a sign saying "Putin is Navalny's murderer! I demand that the body be returned!"

Putin is often pictured at church, dunking himself in ice water to celebrate the Epiphany and visiting holy sites in Russia. He has promoted what he has called "traditional values" without which, he once said, "society degrades."

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected allegations that Putin was involved in Navalny's death, calling them "absolutely unfounded, insolent accusations about the head of the Russian state."

Musician Nadya Tolokonnikova, who became widely known after spending nearly two years in prison for taking part in a 2012 protest with her band Pussy Riot inside Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral, was one of many prominent Russians who released a video in which she accused Putin of hypocrisy and asked him to release Navalny's body.

"We were imprisoned for allegedly trampling on traditional values. But no one tramples on traditional Russian values more than you, Putin, your officials and your priests who pray for all the murder that you do, year after year, day after day," said Tolokonnikova, who lives abroad. "Putin, have a conscience, give his mother the body of her son."

Lyudmila Navalnaya said Thursday that investigators allowed her to see her son's body in the morgue in the Arctic city of Salekhard. She had filed a lawsuit at a court in Salekhard contesting officials' refusal to release the body. A closed-door hearing had been scheduled for March 4.

Yarmysh, Navalny's spokesman, said that Lyudmila Navalnaya was shown a medical certificate stating that her son died of "natural causes."

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

The Associated Press