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Navalny’s mother accuses Russia of ‘blackmailing’ her to agree to secret burial

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The mother of Russia’s top opposition leader Alexei Navalny said Thursday that she has seen her son’s body and that she is resisting strong pressure by authorities to agree to a secret burial outside the public eye. 

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Speaking in a video statement from the Arctic city of Salekhard, Lyudmila Navalnaya said investigators have allowed her to see her son Alexei Navalny’s body in the city morgue. She reaffirmed her demand for her son’s body to be handed over to her and decried the pressure she was being subjected to by Russian authorities to try to force her to agree to a secret burial.

“They are blackmailing me, they are setting conditions where, when and how my son should be buried,” she said. “They want it to do it secretly without a mourning ceremony.”

There was no immediate response from Russian investigators.

Navalny’s mother has filed a lawsuit at a court in Salekhard contesting officials’ refusal to release her son’s body. A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for March 4. On Tuesday, she appealed to Russian President Vladimir Putin to release her son’s remains so that she could bury him with dignity.

Russia’s best-known opposition figure died suddenly in an Arctic penal colony last week. His aides and family have alleged that the Kremlin murdered the 47-year-old politician. The Kremlin rejects the allegation.

‘Time is not on your side, corpses decompose’

Navalny’s mother said she had been shown his body and death certificate. His aides said the death certificate stated that the opposition politician had died of natural causes.

His mother said she had been taken to a morgue on Wednesday evening to see his body.

“The investigators claim that they know the cause of death, they have all the medical and legal documents ready, which I saw, and I signed the medical death certificate,” she said, dressed in black and speaking in a calm voice.

“According to the law, they should have given me Alexei’s body right away, but they have not done so until now,” she said. “I’m recording this video because they started threatening me. Looking into my eyes, they say that if I don’t agree to a secret funeral, they will do something with my son’s body.” She quoted one of the investigators as saying: “Time is not on your side, corpses decompose.”

“I don’t want special conditions,” she said. “I just want everything to be done according to the law. I demand that my son’s body be returned to me immediately.”

Around 400 arrested for trying to pay tributes

Navalny’s death has deprived the  Russian opposition of its most inspiring politician less than a month before an election that is all but certain to give Putin another six years in power. Many Russians had seen Navalny as a rare hope for political change amid Putin’s unrelenting crackdown on the opposition.

Since Navalny’s death, about 400 people have been detained across Russia as they tried to pay tribute to him with flowers and candles, according to OVD-Info, a group that monitors political arrests. Authorities cordoned off some of the memorials to victims of Soviet repression across the country that were being used as makeshift sites to leave tributes for Navalny. Police removed the flowers at night, but more keep appearing. 

Earlier Thursday, imprisoned opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza urged Russians not to give up after Navalny’s death, and he alleged a state-backed hit squad was taking out the Kremlin’s political opponents, according to a video posted to social media.

A British-Russian citizen, Kara-Murza is serving a 25-year sentence for treason at Penal Colony No. 7 in the Siberian city of Omsk. He comments came as he appeared via a video link in a court hearing over a complaint against Russia’s Investigative Committee for what he believes were two poisoning attempts against him. He alleges the committee didn’t properly investigate the attempts.

Kara-Murza is one of several opposition figures who have either been imprisoned, forced to flee the country or killed. He was convicted of criticizing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and was handed a stiff sentence as part of a crackdown against critics of the war and freedom of speech. 

“We owe it … to our fallen comrades to continue to work with even greater strength and achieve what they lived and died for,” Kara-Murza said in the video, which was shared by the Russian Sota telegram channel.

Navalny’s wife flies to US to be with daughter

Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, said Thursday on her Instagram account that she had flown to visit her 20-year-old daughter, Dasha, a student at Stanford University.

“My dear girl, I came to hug you and support you, and you sit and support me” she wrote under a photo of herself and her daughter lying on a carpet. 

Describing her daughter as “strong, brave and resilient,” Navalnaya said the family would “definitely cope with everything.” She also has a 15-year-old son, Zakhar.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and Reuters)

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