Navalny's mother asks Putin to hand over body: Kremlin rejects call for independent postmortem on opposition leader Alexei Navalny
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The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been handed over to his mother, an aide to Navalny said Saturday.

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, made the announcement on his Telegram account and thanked “everyone” who had called on Russian authorities to return Navalny’s body to his mother.

Earlier Saturday, Yulia Navalnaya, Navalny’s widow, accused President Vladimir Putin of mocking Christianity by trying to force his mother to agree to a secret funeral after his death in a penal colony.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.

The widow of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny accused President Vladimir Putin of mocking Christianity by trying to force his mother to agree to a secret funeral after his death in a penal colony.

Yulia Navalnaya said in a video released Saturday that Navalny’s mother, who wants her son’s body returned to her, is being “literally tortured” by authorities who had threatened to bury Navalny in the Arctic prison. They suggested to his mother that she does not have much time to make a decision because the body is decomposing, Navalnaya said.

“Give us the body of my husband,” Navalnaya said. “You tortured him alive, and now you keep torturing him dead. You mock the remains of the dead.”

Navalny, 47, Russia’s most well-known opposition politician, unexpectedly died on Feb. 16 in the penal colony, prompting hundreds of Russians across the country to stream to impromptu memorials with flowers and candles.

Authorities have detained scores of people as they seek to suppress any major outpouring of sympathy for Putin’s fiercest foe before the presidential election he is almost certain to win. Russians on social media say officials do not want to return Navalny’s body to his family because they fear a public show of support for him.

Kremlin officials rejected on Tuesday a call for an independent postmortem examination on the remains of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Navalnaya accused Putin, an Orthodox Christian, of killing Navalny.

“No true Christian could ever do what Putin is now doing with the body of Alexei,” she said, asking, “What will you do with his corpse? How low will you sink to mock the man you murdered?”

Saturday marked nine days since the opposition leader’s death, a day when Orthodox Christians hold a memorial service.

People across Russia came out to mark the occasion and honor Navalny’s memory by gathering at Orthodox churches, leaving flowers at public monuments or holding one-person protests.

Muscovites lined up outside the city’s Christ the Savior Cathedral to pay their respects, according to photos and videos published by independent Russian news outlet SOTAvision. The video also shows Russian police stationed nearby and officers stopping several people for an ID check.

As of early Saturday afternoon, at least 27 had been detained in nine Russian cities for showing support for Navalny, according to the OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests.

They included Sergei Karabatov, 64, who laid flowers at a Moscow monument to victims of political repression, along with a handwritten note saying “Don’t think this is the end.” Also arrested was Aida Nuriyeva, from the city of Ufa near the Ural Mountains, who stood in a street with a sign saying “Putin is Navalny’s murderer! I demand that the body be returned!”

Putin is often pictured at church, dunking himself in ice water to celebrate the Epiphany and visiting holy sites in Russia. He has promoted what he has called “traditional values” without which, he once said, “society degrades.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected allegations that Putin was involved in Navalny’s death, calling them “absolutely unfounded, insolent accusations about the head of the Russian state.”

Musician Nadya Tolokonnikova, who became widely known after spending nearly two years in prison for taking part in a 2012 protest with her band Pussy Riot inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, released a video in which she also accused Putin of hypocrisy.

“We were imprisoned for allegedly trampling on traditional values. But no one tramples on traditional Russian values more than you, Putin, your officials and your priests who pray for all the murder that you do, year after year, day after day,” Tolokonnikova, who lives abroad, said. “Putin, have a conscience, give his mother the body of her son.”

Tolokonnikova was one of several cultural icons who have released videos calling on Russian authorities to return Navalny’s body to his family so that they can give him a funeral. Navalny’s mother and lawyers have been trying to retrieve his body since late last week.

Lyudmila Navalnaya said Thursday that investigators allowed her to see her son’s body in the morgue in the Arctic city of Salekhard. She has filed a lawsuit at a court in Salekhard contesting officials’ refusal to release the body. A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for March 4.

Navalny’s spokesman, Kira Yarmysh, said on X, formerly Twitter, that Lyudmila Navalnaya was shown a medical certificate stating that her son died of “natural causes.”

Copyright © 2024 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.

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