Russian officials release Alexei Navalny’s body to his mother

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Russian officials have returned Alexei Navalny’s body to his mother after what the late opposition leader’s team described as a week of stalling, obfuscation and threats to let it rot.

Officials in Salekhard, the city in northern Russia where the activist’s body was held in a morgue, released it on Saturday, according to Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokeswoman.

The decision ends a week-long stand-off between Navalny’s mother Lyudmila Navalnaya and Russian officials in charge of the inquest after he died in a remote Arctic penal colony last week.

Yarmysh said the officials had threatened to let his corpse rot or bury him on the prison grounds if his family did not agree to a secret funeral.

Navalny’s family and supporters have accused the Kremlin of trying to hush up his death to avoid a show of popular support for him, less than a month before an election in which President Vladimir Putin is expected to extend his 24-year rule to at least 2030.

The Kremlin has already cracked down on attempts to show support for Navalny, arresting nearly 400 people who laid flowers in his memory last weekend. Putin has not commented on Navalny’s death or even said his name in public for more than a decade.

Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s widow, has accused Putin of ordering his murder and directing a cover-up, even though the inquest held he died of “natural causes”.

In a video published earlier on Saturday, Navalnaya, who has vowed to take on her husband’s mantle, said Putin had personally directed officials “not to give it back, pressure the mother, break her, and tell her that her son’s corpse is rotting”.

Lyudmila Navalnaya is still in Salekhard and has not made funeral arrangements, Yarmysh said.

“We do not know if the authorities will stop us from holding [Navalny’s funeral] as the family wants and as Alexey deserves,” Yarmysh wrote on social media.

Navalny, Russia’s strongest voice opposing Putin and the invasion of Ukraine, had been in prison since 2021, when he returned to Russia after recovering from being poisoned with the nerve agent novichok.

In that time, the Kremlin outlawed his foundation, arrested several of his most prominent supporters and in effect banned all dissent, prompting most of his allies and some of his family to flee the country.

Navalny was sentenced to decades in increasingly harsh prison conditions and held in a punishment cell 27 times — conditions he said amounted to torture.

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