Thousands bid final farewell to Russia’s Alexey Navalny, risking arrest | Human Rights News

Thousands gathered to bid a final farewell to Alexey Navalny, many chanting his name and saying they will not forgive Russian authorities for his death as the opposition leader was laid to rest.

Crowds of mourners turned up near a church in southern Moscow on Friday, waiting hours to pay their respects to Navalny under the watch of large numbers of police, after the Kremlin warned against “unauthorised” protests.

Loud chants of “Navalny, Navalny” rang out as the dissident’s coffin was carried out of a black hearse on arrival at the church in the Maryino district, the passage open despite the heavy police presence and antiriot police trucks.

After a short service, pallbearers carried his coffin out for burial at the capital’s Borisovskoye cemetery.

In video streamed from the cemetery, Navalny’s mother Lyudmila and father Anatoly stooped over his open coffin to kiss him for the last time as a small group of musicians played.

Crossing themselves, mourners stepped forward to caress his face before a priest gently placed a white shroud over him. The coffin was then closed and lowered into the ground.

Anatoly Navalny, right, and Lyudmila Navalnaya, parents of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny walk to the church for his funeral service in Moscow, Russia, on Friday, March 1, 2024 [AP Photo]

Navalny, President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest critic inside Russia, died at the age of 47 in an Arctic penal colony on February 16, sparking accusations from his supporters that he had been murdered.

The Kremlin has denied any state involvement in his death.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov earlier warned that “unauthorised gatherings will be in violation of the law and those who participate in them will be held responsible”, according to Russia’s TASS news agency.

Rights organisation OVD-Info said it knew of “at least 67 arrests in 16 towns” on Friday, including six arrests in Moscow where Navalny’s funeral was held.

The rights group says some 400 people have been detained at memorials for Navalny since his death.

The French and German ambassadors were in the crowd of mourners on Friday, as were some of Russia’s last free independent politicians.

Among the large crowd, some chanted, “Russia will be free”, “No to war”, “Russia without Putin”, “We won’t forgive” and “Putin is a murderer.” Police were present in large numbers but did not intervene.

“People like him shouldn’t be dying: honest and principled, willing to sacrifice themselves,” said one mourner, Anna Stepanova, outside the church.

“What are they afraid of? Why so many cars?” she said. “The people who came here, they are not scared. Alexey wasn’t either.”


Mysterious death

Navalny was known for his outspoken and uncompromising criticism of Putin.

His funeral came after a battle with authorities over the release of his body following his as-yet unexplained death in detention. His body was held in a morgue for eight days before being returned to the family.

Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, is outside of Russia and did not attend the funeral; neither did Navalny’s two children.

Navalnaya previously accused Putin of murdering her husband and then delaying the release of his body in a bid to prevent him from having a dignified public burial.

Kremlin spokesman Peskov has criticised the accusations made by her and some Western leaders as “vulgar”.

Foreign diplomats, including French Ambassador to Russia Pierre Levy and U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy, wait near the Soothe My Sorrows church before a funeral service and a farewell ceremony for Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia
Foreign diplomats, including French Ambassador to Russia Pierre Levy and US Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy, wait before a funeral service and a farewell ceremony for Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia, on March 1, 2024 [Stringer/Reuters]

Western governments have been quick to hold the Kremlin responsible, but have stopped short of making direct accusations of involvement.

Several churches in Moscow had refused to hold the service before Navalny’s team got permission from the Church of the Icon of Our Lady Quench My Sorrows, close to where Navalny lived before his 2020 poisoning, treatment in Germany and subsequent arrest on his return to Russia in 2021.

Addressing the European Parliament this week, Navalnaya told lawmakers her husband had been tortured for three years.

“He was starved in a tiny stone cell, cut off from the outside world and denied visits, phone calls, and then even letters,” she said.

Navalnaya has pledged to continue his life’s work and urged to “fight more desperately, more fiercely than before.”

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