Alexei Navalny supporters, mourners gather in Moscow for Russian opposition leader’s funeral


Relatives and supporters of Alexei Navalny are bidding farewell to the opposition leader at a funeral Friday in southeastern Moscow, following a battle with authorities over the release of his body after his still-unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony.

His supporters say several churches in Moscow refused to hold the service before Navalny’s team got permission from one in the capital’s Maryino district, where he once lived.

The Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows, which agreed to hold the service, did not mention it on its social media page. Authorities lined the road from a nearby subway station to the church with crowd-control barriers, and riot police deployed in big numbers early Friday. 

Several people are shown lined up and wearing winter clothing. Some hold flowers.
People gather near the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows church as they wait for a funeral service and a farewell ceremony Navalny in Moscow on Friday, two weeks after his death while imprisoned. (Reuters)

After the hearse arrived at the church, the coffin could be seen on livestreamed footage being taken out of the vehicle, as the crowd applauded and chanted: “Navalny! Navalny!”

Burial was to follow in the nearby Borisovskoye Cemetery, where police also showed up in force. Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, spent eight days trying to get authorities to release the body following his Feb. 16 death at Penal Colony No. 3 in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometres northeast of Moscow.

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Once it was released, at least one funeral director said he had been “forbidden” to work with Navalny’s supporters, the spokesperson for Navalny’s team, Kira Yarmysh, said on social media. They also were unable to find a hearse for the funeral.

“Unknown people are calling up people and threatening them not to take Alexei’s body anywhere,” Yarmysh said Thursday.

A grassy area is cordoned off near plaques bearing the images of people.
A view of a grave where Navalny is due to be buried at the Borisovskoye Cemetery, in Moscow is shown on Friday. (The Associated Press)

Yarmysh also urged Navalny’s supporters around the world to lay flowers in his honour Friday.

“Everyone who knew Alexei says what a cheerful, courageous and honest person he was,” Yarmysh said Thursday. “But the greater truth is that even if you never met Alexei, you knew what he was like, too. You shared his investigations, you went to rallies with him, you read his posts from prison. His example showed many people what to do when even when things were scary and difficult.” 

Russian authorities still haven’t announced the cause of death for Navalny, 47, who crusaded against official corruption and organized big protests as Putin’s fiercest political foe. Many Western leaders blamed the death on the Russian leader, as Navalny — who had survived a 2020 poisoning attempt — was being imprisoned on a host of terrorism and corruption charges that supporters and Western leaders characterized as politically motivated.

The Kremlin angrily rejected the accusations.

WATCH l Hear Navalny urge supporters to carry on Putin opposition in Oscar-winning film: 

What Navalny wanted supporters to do if he died: ‘Get back to work’

In Daniel Roher’s documentary, Alexei Navalny told his supporters his death would be a sign of the opposition’s strength. The Canadian director told The National’s Ian Hanomansing Navalny would want his supporters not to mourn his death, but fight Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Navalny-Nemtsov memorial not allowed

It was not immediately clear who among Navalny’s family or allies would attend the funeral, with many of his associates in exile abroad due to fear of prosecution in Russia. Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation and his regional offices were designated as “extremist organizations” by the Russian government in 2021.

The politician’s team said the funeral would be streamed live on Navalny’s YouTube channel.

WATCH l Navalny’s widow urges Europe’s leaders to tackle oligarch money flows:

Navalny’s widow calls on European Parliament to hold Putin accountable for his death

Yulia Navalnaya, the wife of late Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny, has urged European politicians and officials to treat Russian President Vladimir Putin not as a statesman but as ‘the leader of an organized criminal gang.’

Moscow authorities refused permission for a separate memorial event for Navalny and slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov on Friday, citing COVID-19 restrictions, politician Yekaterina Duntsova said Thursday. Nemtsov, a 55-year-old former deputy prime minister, was shot to death as he walked on a bridge adjacent to the Kremlin on the night of Feb. 27, 2015.

“Just a reminder that we have a law that must be followed. Any unauthorized gatherings will be in violation of the law, and those who participate in them will be held accountable — again, in line with the current law,” Kremlin spokeperson Dmitry Peskov said in a call to reporters.

Peskov declined to give any assessment of Navalny as a political figure and said he had nothing to say to Navalny’s family.

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