Navalny’s mother shown body and ‘blackmailed by authorities’ over funeral

Alexei Navalny’s mother has said she has been shown the body of her son but that the authorities were “blackmailing” her into burying him in a secret ceremony without mourners.

In a video message on Thursday, Lyudmila Navalnaya said she was driven to a morgue on Wednesday evening where authorities showed her the body.

Navalnaya said she recorded the video because she was being threatened into agreeing to a secret funeral for her son and that the authorities refused to give her his body unless she agreed to their terms.

“They want it to be done secretly, without a goodbye. They want to bring me to the edge of the cemetery, to a fresh grave and say: here lies your son. I don’t agree to that,” she said.

“They say that if I don’t agree to a secret burial, they will do something with my son’s body.”

Navalnaya said the investigators threatened to let her son’s body rot unless he is buried in secret. “Time is not on your side, corpses decompose,” she was told.

She said she wanted everyone for whom Navalny’s death was “a personal tragedy” to have an opportunity to say goodbye to him.

Shortly after Navalnaya’s message was published, Navalny’s team announced that a death certificate shown to her said the opposition leader died from “natural causes”.

Allies of Navalny described the authorities’ conduct surrounding his body as “medieval”.

“This kind of abuse of a dead body is hard to even imagine,” said Ivan Zhdanov, a close friend of the Navalny family.

Navalnaya has been trying to retrieve her son’s body since Saturday, after he died in a penal colony in Russia’s far north a day earlier.

The Kremlin appears to be trying to make sure Navalny’s funeral does not turn into a public show of support for the opposition leader.

“Authorities fear Navalny’s funeral could turn into a political action,” wrote Andrei Kolesnikov, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center.

“But people mourn him calmly and with dignity, even though they are being persecuted for it,” he added, referring to the hundreds of Russians who have been detained while paying tribute to Navalny.

The opposition leader’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, on Thursday repeated that the Russian president was personally responsible for the death, writing on X: “[Vladimir] Putin killed Navalny.”

The Kremlin denies all involvement in Navalny’s death. Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, on Thursday described the west’s reaction to the death as “hysteria”.

Meanwhile, from a Siberian jail, a prominent Russian-British opposition figure has urged Russians not to give up after the death of Navalny.

Vladimir Kara-Murza, who studied at the University of Cambridge, was detained in April 2022 and charged with spreading false information about the Russian army in Ukraine.

He was later also charged with high treason over public speeches he made that criticised Kremlin policies and the war in Ukraine.

“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 during a court appearance from jail. Video footage of the comments was shared by the Russian Sota Telegram channel.

This week Kaza-Murza accused Putin of being “personally responsible for the death of Alexei Navalny”.

Concerns over Kara-Murza’s already fragile health have been rising since Navalny’s death. The dual citizen was moved in January to a prison in Siberia and has frequently been placed in the notorious shizo, or solitary punishment cell, over minor infractions.

He fell into comas in Moscow in 2015 and 2017 after displaying symptoms that doctors said were consistent with poisoning.

Kara-Murza, a close friend of the former opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was shot and killed in 2015, nearly died from kidney failure in the first poisoning, which he blamed on the Kremlin.

Kara-Murza’s wife and some of his allies have indicated they were hoping he might be involved in a prisoner exchange to get him out of Russia. A UK Foreign Office minister on Monday ruled out such a swap, arguing that such moves only encouraged state hostage-taking.

Kara-Murza is one of several high-profile opposition figures imprisoned in Russia. Another is Ilya Yashin, a close friend of Navalny who said this week he feared for his life after the death of the opposition leader.

“Of course I understand the risks I face. I’m behind bars. My life is in Putin’s hands and it’s in danger,” Yashin said in a post shared on social media by his allies. “As long as my heart beats in my chest, I will fight tyranny. As long as I live, I will fear no evil.”

Since the start of the full-scale invasion of Ukraine, tens of thousands of Russians have been detained for opposing the war, according to the human rights group OVD-Info. According to a separate report published by the Russian investigative outlet Proekt, more than 100,000 Russians have been victims of political repression since 2018.