Navalny widow says Russia’s Putin torturing him even in death, demands body

Yulia Navalnaya accuses Russian president of mocking Christianity as officials refuse to hand over remains to family.

Alexey Navalnay and Yulia, his wife
The late Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny and his wife Yulia [File: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters]

Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of opposition leader Alexey Navalny, has demanded that Russian authorities hand over his body for burial as she accused President Vladimir Putin of mocking Orthodox Christian values and “torturing” his corpse.

“Give us the body of my husband,” Navalnaya said in a video released on Saturday, adding that she wanted to give him a traditional Orthodox funeral.

“You tortured him alive, and now you keep torturing him dead. You mock the remains of the dead,” she said in a message to Putin.

Navalny, a prominent opponent of Putin, died last week in a remote maximum-security Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence on extremism charges.

The authorities claim that he died of natural causes. They have refused to hand over his remains to the family even nine days later.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, has said investigators were pressuring her to bury her son in “secret” at a private ceremony without mourners.

An official told her that she should agree to their demands because Navalny’s body was already decomposing, she said.

Navalny’s aides said the authorities had threatened to bury him in the prison colony where he died unless his family agreed to their conditions.

“They want to take me to the far end of the cemetery to a fresh grave and say: ‘Here lies your son’,”  his mother said in a video posted on YouTube on Thursday. “I’m not agreeing to that.”

‘How low will you sink?’

“No true Christian could ever do what Putin is now doing with the body of Alexey,” his widow said in the video, as she questioned Putin’s often-professed Christian faith.

“What will you do with his corpse? How low will you sink to mock the man you murdered?”, she asked and said, “We already knew that Putin’s faith was fake. But now we see it more clearly than ever before.”

The Russian leader is frequently pictured in 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”, and has touted his closeness to Russia’s Orthodox Church.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has denounced allegations – even from world leaders – 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 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,” said Tolokonnikova, who lives abroad. “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.

Critics say that the authorities fear a funeral could turn into a large-scale public show of support for the opposition leader.

The funeral arrangements for Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Putin ally-turned-rival and founder of the Wagner mercenary group who died last August, were surrounded in secrecy and his body was buried on the outskirts of Saint Petersburg away from the glare of the media.

While Russian media have given little space to the news of Navalny’s death, people flocked to the streets of cities across the country to pay tribute to the opposition leader. Police arrested at least 400 people in the first 24 hours since the news of his death, according to protest monitoring group OVD-Info.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies