WARSAW: The body of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been handed to his mother, more than a week after he died in an Arctic prison colony, his spokesperson said on Saturday.

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s most vocal critic, died on Feb 16 in one of Russia’s toughest prisons in northern Siberia, where he was serving a 19-year sentence on charges widely seen as political retribution for his opposition.

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

For the past week, Russian authorities had refused to give Lyudmila Navalnaya custody of her son’s body, after she travelled to the town of Salekhard in the Yamalo-Nenets region, the nearest settlement to the prison colony where Navalny died.

Spokesperson Kira Yarmysh says plans for funeral were still unclear

Navalny’s team said they had filed a lawsuit to obtain the body, alleging that local investigators had threatened to bury him on the prison grounds if his mother did not agree to a “secret” funeral. Yarmysh said plans for the funeral were still unclear.

“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,” she said.

His team said previously the Kremlin was trying to block a public funeral, which could turn into a show of support for Navalny’s movement and his opposition to Putin. The Russian leader, who famously never said Navalny’s name in public, has not commented on the death of his most vocal critic.

Putin accused of holding body ‘hostage’

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of the late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, had demanded that Russian authorities release his body for burial and accused a “demonic” Russian President Vladimir Putin of “torturing” his corpse.

In a six minute video posted on YouTube, Navalnaya accused Putin of holding her husband’s body “hostage”, and questioned Putin’s often-professed Christian faith.

Navalny’s mother Lyudmila said that Russian investigators were refusing to release his body from a morgue in the remote Arctic city of Salekhard until she agreed to lay him to rest without a public funeral.

She said an official had told her that she should agree to their demands, as Navalny’s body was already decomposing.

On Saturday, Navalny aides said that authorities had threatened to bury him in the remote prison colony where he died unless his family agreed to their conditions.

In the video, an emotional Yulia Navalnaya claimed that Putin personally was responsible for the whereabouts of Navalny’s body, and that he was “torturing” Navalny in death as he had in life. “We already knew that Putin’s faith was fake. But now we see it more clearly than ever before,” said Navalnaya, dressed in black.

“No true Christian could ever do what Putin is now doing with Alexei’s body.” Since returning to the Russian presidency in 2012, Vladimir Putin has positioned himself as a defender of traditional, conservative values against what he portrays as corrosive Western liberalism.

Published in Dawn, February 25th, 2024

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