Russia holding body of Alexei Navalny at undisclosed location as condemnation continues

More than 400 people detained in cities across Russia over weekend amid crackdown on those mourning President Vladimir Putin’s most influential Russian opponent

Russia was still holding the body of dissident Alexei Navalny at an undisclosed location on Sunday night, amid western condemnation over his death in an Arctic jail and a police crackdown on people mourning President Vladimir Putin’s most influential opponent in Russia.

More than 400 people were detained in cities across Russia over the weekend at makeshift memorials to Mr Navalny (47), who died suddenly on Friday in the notorious Kharp prison camp – nicknamed the “Polar Wolf” – near the northern city of Salekhard.

Mr Navalny received multiple jail sentences on a series of trumped-up charges after returning to Moscow in January 2021 from Germany, where he had spent several months recovering from a near-fatal poisoning in Siberia by Russia’s security services.

“When Alexei’s lawyer and mother arrived at the [prison] colony this morning, they were told that the cause of Navalny’s death was sudden death syndrome,” Ivan Zhdanov, a lawyer and senior figure in Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, said on Saturday, referring to a vague medical term for a cause of sudden, fatal heart attacks.


A few minutes later, Mr Zhdanov added that the prison “had stated that they wanted to release the body as soon as possible. Now it has become obvious… that they are not going to hand over the body. And in addition, the body is not in the [local] morgues.”

Kira Yarmysh, Mr Navalny’s spokeswoman, said: “Another of Navalny’s lawyers, who went to Salekhard’s Investigative Committee, was told that ‘the cause of Alexey’s death has not yet been established, a new histological examination has been carried out’. The results will supposedly be available next week. It’s obvious that they are lying and doing everything they can to avoid handing over the body.”

Later on Saturday, she added: “Now the Investigation Committee says directly that Alexey’s body will not be handed over to his relatives until the investigation is complete.”

Russian officials have said nothing in public about where Mr Navalny’s body is being kept, what tests are being performed on it, or why he died just a day after appearing to be in good health during a court appearance from jail via video link.

The Novaya Gazeta Europe newspaper quoted an unnamed paramedic in the Salekhard ambulance service as saying colleagues had reported seeing bruises on Navalny’s corpse that “appeared to be from convulsions”.

“If a person is convulsing and others try to hold him down but the convulsions are very strong, then bruising appears. They also said he had a bruise on his chest – the kind that comes from indirect cardiac massage,” the paramedic said. “So they did try to resuscitate him, and he probably died of cardiac arrest… But nobody is saying anything about why he had a cardiac arrest.”

US president Joe Biden said that “there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did”.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and Tánaiste Micheál Martin condemned political repression in Russia, prompting a response on social media from the Russian Embassy in Dublin.

“Any loss of life is regrettable and this one is not an exception,” it said on Telegram. “All attempts to whip up political speculation around Navalny’s death, exploiting it for the sake of attacking and demonising Russia – as the Taoiseach and the Tánaiste have done – are unacceptable and unconscionable.”

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Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe