Alexei Navalny's death not criminal, authorities say, as mother is denied access to his body

A portrait of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, flowers and candles are laid at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg on Feb 16, 2024.
A portrait of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, flowers and candles are laid at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg on Feb 16, 2024. Copyright AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky
Copyright AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky
By Euronews, AP
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Navalny died at 47 as he was serving a 19-year sentence handed out in 2021 on charges of extremism he had decried as politically motivated.

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Alexei Navalny's team said on Saturday they were told a first investigation into his death had found nothing criminal, which they dismissed as a "lie".

"Only an hour ago, the lawyers were informed that the investigation had been concluded and that something criminal had not been established," Kyra Yarmysh, the late Russian opposition leader's spokesperson, wrote on social media platform X.

"They literally lie every time, driving us around in circles and covering their tracks," she added.

In other posts, she said that his lawyers were told that as his cause of death has not yet been established, "a new histological examination has been carried out", that the results would only be available next week and that his body "will not be handed over to his relatives until the investigation is complete".

It is currently unclear where his body is with his mother, who travelled to the "special regime" penal colony above the Arctic Circle he had been held in, unable to see him.

She had been informed - after receiving an official message at the colony that her son had died on February 16 at 2:17 p.m. local time - that his body had been transferred by investigators to Salekhard.

But when she, and his lawyer, arrived at the morgue, it was closed. "The lawyer called the phone number which was on the door. He was told he was the seventh caller today. Alexei's body is not in the morgue," Yarmysh wrote.

“We demand that Alexei Navalny’s body be handed over to his family immediately,” she also wrote.

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported that Navalny felt sick after a walk and became unconscious at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometres northeast of Moscow. An ambulance arrived, but he couldn’t be revived. 

Maria Pevchikh, head of the board of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said that the Kremlin critic would “live on forever in millions of hearts.”

“Navalny was murdered. We still don’t know how we’ll keep on living, but together, we’ll think of something,” she wrote on X.

Arrests continued Saturday after more than 100 people were detained in various Russian cities Friday when they came to lay flowers in memory of Navalny at memorials to the victims of Soviet-era purges, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political repression in Russia.

The tributes were removed overnight, but people continued trickling in with flowers on Saturday. In Moscow, a large group of people chanted “shame” as police dragged a screaming woman from the crowd, video shared on social media showed.

More than 10 people were detained at a memorial in St. Petersburg, including a priest who came to conduct a service for Navalny there.

In other cities across the country, police cordoned off some of the memorials and officers were taking pictures of those who came and writing down their personal data in a clear intimidation attempt.

Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. He was later convicted three times, saying each case was politically motivated, and received a sentence of 19 years for extremism.

After the last verdict, Navalny said he understood he was “serving a life sentence, which is measured by the length of my life or the length of life of this regime.”

The news of Navalny’s death comes less than a month before an election that will give President Vladimir Putin another six years in power.

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It shows “that the sentence in Russia now for opposition is not merely imprisonment, but death,” said Nigel Gould-Davies, a former British ambassador to Belarus and senior fellow for Russia & Eurasia at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London.

Western leaders have largely held the Kremlin and President Putin responsible for Navalny's death with European Council President Charles Michel writing on X that "the EU holds the Russian regime (solely) responsible for this tragic death."

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