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Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny's funeral to be held in Moscow on Friday

Navalny died at an Arctic penal colony, one of Russia's harshest facilities, on February 16 at the age of 47. He was a long-time foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin and was serving a 30-year-old prison sentence on charges of contempt and fraud.

Aveek Banerjee Edited By: Aveek Banerjee @AveekABanerjee Moscow Updated on: February 28, 2024 19:06 IST
Alexei Navalny, funeral service, burial, Russia
Image Source : REUTERS A vigil held for Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Moscow: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whose death on February 16 in an Arctic penal colony sent shockwaves through the world, will be buried in Moscow on Friday (March 1), said his spokesperson Kira Yarmysh, after efforts to obtain a hall allowing the anti-corruption activist's supporters to bid farewell to him failed. Navalny died in one of Russia's harshest penal facilities and the circumstances remain unknown.

Yarmysh said a service for Navalny would be held at 2 pm (Moscow time) in the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God in the Moscow district of Maryino. Navalny would then be buried at the Borisovskoye cemetery, she said while appealing to people to reach early.

Navalny's spokesperson on Tuesday said the team was denied access to commercial venues and funeral halls for his burial. "We have called most of the private and public funeral agencies, commercial venues and funeral halls. Some of them say the place is fully booked. Some refuse when we mention the surname "Navalny". In one place, we were told that the funeral agencies were forbidden to work with us," she said on X.

Navalny, 47, died at an Arctic penal colony on February 16. The Kremlin has denied Russia had any involvement in his death. Navalny's death certificate stated that he died of natural causes, according to his supporters, but many foreign leaders have held Russian President Vladimir Putin responsible for his death.

His mother accused the authorities of trying to blackmail her into holding a private funeral for her son by initially withholding his body, an assertion the Kremlin called absurd. Russian authorities said the cause of his death is still unknown, and the results of any investigation are likely to be questioned abroad.

Navalny's wife fears possible arrests

Judging from previous gatherings of Navalny supporters - whom the authorities have designated as US-backed extremists - a heavy police presence is likely and the authorities will break up anything they deem to resemble a political demonstration under protest laws.

"The funeral will take place the day after tomorrow and I’m not sure yet whether it will be peaceful or whether police will arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband," Navalny's wife Yulia Navalnaya said in a speech to the European Parliament in Strasbourg, where she won multiple standing ovations.

Navalny was to be freed as part of political exchange: Aide

Maria Pevchikh, a Navalny ally, claimed on Monday that Navalny was close to being freed in a prisoner swap at the time of his death and that Putin had him killed as he could not tolerate the thought of him being freed. Speaking on YouTube, Pevchikh said that the talks about exchanging Navalny and two unnamed US nationals for Vadim Krasikov, a Russian FSB security service hitman in jail in Germany, were in their final stages at the time of his death.

Pevchikh did not name the two US nationals in contention to be swapped along with Navalny. However, the US is trying to return Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and Paul Whelan, a former US Marine. "Alexei Navalny could be sitting in this seat right now, right today. That's not a figure of speech, it could and should have happened," said Pevchikh.

"Navalny should have been out in the next few days because we got a decision about his exchange. In early February, Putin was offered to exchange the killer, FSB officer Vadim Krasikov, who's serving time for a murder in Berlin, for two American citizens and Alexei Navalny." Pevchikh said she had confirmation that negotiations for the swap were in their final stages on the evening of February 15.

In a video recorded before the release of the body, Navalny's widow Yulia Navalnaya accused "demonic" Putin of "torturing" the corpse of a political opponent. Navalny's allies urged supporters "not to relax" and his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, wrote on X there was no certainty that Russian authorities would let relatives hold a funeral "the way the family wants and the way Alexei deserves."

Navalny's lawyer briefly detained

Meanwhile, Vasily Dubkov, Navalny's lawyer who accompanied his mother last week as she fought to get authorities to hand over his body, was briefly detained on Tuesday in Moscow. Dubkov later told an independent news outlet that he was detained due to an "obstruction of his activity as a lawyer" and was released afterwards. Three of Navalny's lawyers were arrested last October on suspicion of belonging to an "extremist group", and two others have been placed on a wanted list.

Leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) major democracies, in a statement pledging support for Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskyy on the second anniversary of the war in Ukraine, urged Russia to fully clarify the circumstances around Navalny's death and to free "all unjustly detained prisoners". "We will hold those culpable for Navalny's death accountable, including by continuing to impose restrictive measures in response to human rights violations and abuses in Russia and taking other actions," the G7 added. 

(with inputs from Reuters)

ALSO READ | Alexei Navalny's 'tortured' body handed over to his mother nine days after his mysterious death

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