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Police Arrest 100 Protesters In Russia Over Navalny’s Memorial

The 47-year-old Kremlin critic was serving a 19-year prison sentence in the Arctic when authorities announced his death, prompting grief among his supporters.


People demonstrate and pay their respect for late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, at the monument for victims of political repressions in Vilnius, Lithuania, on February 16, 2024. (Photo by PETRAS MALUKAS / AFP)

 

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s sudden death in prison drew no response from the Kremlin on Saturday, despite protests and mounting accusations from the West that it was responsible.

The 47-year-old spent three years behind bars in increasingly deteriorating conditions before prison authorities abruptly announced Friday he “felt bad after a walk” and died.

His death deprives Russia’s opposition of its figurehead just a month before elections poised to extend President Vladimir Putin’s grip on power, and comes as authorities wage an unprecedented crackdown on dissent.

Makeshift memorials and small protests in memory of the deceased leader were swiftly broken up by Russian police, who rights groups say have detained some 177 people so far.

READ ALSO: Russian Opposition Leader Navalny Dies In Prison – Russian Agency

After angrily pushing back at accusations they were to blame, authorities made little to no mention of his death on Saturday, as the chorus of condemnation grew from the West.

G7 foreign ministers meeting in Munich held a minute’s silence Saturday for Navalny, Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani’s office said.

“Make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death,” US President Joe Biden said on Friday, echoing the views of other leaders who pointed the finger at the Kremlin.

 

Riot police officers are seen deployed at the monument to the victims of political repressions as people come to it to lay flowers for late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Saint Petersburg on February 17, 2024, one day after the death of Navalny in an Arctic prison. (Photo by Olga MALTSEVA / AFP)

 

 

Candles and a photo of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny are left at a makeshift memorial as people demonstrate and pay their respect following his death in prison, in front of former Russian consulate in Frankfurt, western Germany on February 16, 2024. (Photo by AFP)

 

Australia’s Foreign Minister Penny Wong on Saturday said Navalny’s “heroic opposition to Putin’s repressive and unjust regime inspired the world”.

“We hold the Russian Government solely responsible for his treatment and death in prison,” Wong posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Russian Nobel Peace Prize winner Dmitry Muratov said Navalny’s death was “murder” and that he was “tortured and tormented” for all of the three years he spent in prison.

China, an increasingly important ally for the Kremlin, declined to comment on his death.

 ‘Terrifying regime’

In the capital Moscow, police detained at least 15 people who had been laying flowers at a monument for victims of Soviet repression, the independent media outlet Sota said.

In one video posted by the outlet, a woman could be heard screaming as a crowd of police officers forcefuly detained her, to chants of “shame” from onlookers.

Another showed a group of people in plain clothes removing flowers from a monument in the capital’s Lubyanka Square overnight, while police blocked off the area.

People place flowers and candles in front of the Russian embassy in Helsinki, Finland on February 17, 2024, one day after Russian officials announced the death of the Kremlin’s most prominent critic Alexei Navalny. (Photo by Roni Rekomaa / LEHTIKUVA / AFP)

 

Navalny’s death was announced by Russia’s federal penitentiary service, which said he lost consciousness after a walk.

Russian news agencies reported that medics from a local hospital arrived within minutes and spent more than “half an hour” trying to resuscitate him.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, said she held Putin personally responsible and called on the international community to “unite and defeat this evil, terrifying regime”.

His spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said on Saturday his mother Lyudmila had been officialy notified of his death, and called for his body to be immediately returned to his family.

Navalny was Russia’s most prominent opposition leader and garnered a huge following as he campaigned against corruption under Putin.

Putin — who famously never referred to Navalny by name — was on a visit to the Urals on Friday and made no mention of the death.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov accused Western leaders on Friday of “absolutely unacceptable” and “hysterical” reactions to Navalny’s death.

 ‘I’m not afraid’

One of Navalny’s lawyers, Leonid Solovyov, told the Novaya Gazeta newspaper that he was “normal” when another lawyer saw him on Wednesday.

In footage of a court hearing from his prison colony on Thursday, Navalny was seen smiling and joking as he addressed the judge by video link. State media reported he raised no health complaints during the session.

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference hours after news of her husband’s death, Yulia Navalnaya said Putin and his entourage would be “punished for everything they have done to our country, to my family and to my husband”.

People hold signs outside the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, on February 16, 2024, following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

 

Navalny, who led street protests for more than a decade, became a household name through his anti-corruption campaigning.

His exposes of official corruption, posted on his YouTube channel, racked up millions of views and brought tens of thousands of Russians to the streets, despite harsh anti-protest laws.

He was jailed in early 2021 after returning to Russia from Germany, where he was recovering from a near-fatal poisoning attack with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent.

In a string of cases, he was sentenced to 19 years in prison on charges widely condemned by rights groups and in the West as retribution for his opposition to the Kremlin.

His return to Russia despite knowing he would face jail brought him admiration.

“I’m not afraid and I call on you not to be afraid,” he said in an appeal to supporters as he landed in Moscow, moments before being detained on charges linked to an old fraud conviction.

His 2021 arrest spurred some of the largest demonstrations Russia had seen in decades, and thousands were detained at rallies nationwide calling for his release.

‘Don’t do nothing’

From behind bars, Navalny was a staunch opponent of Moscow’s full-scale military offensive against Ukraine, and watched on, helplessly, as the Kremlin dismantled his organisation and locked up his allies.

Dozens of his top supporters fled into exile and continued to campaign against the offensive on Ukraine and repression inside Russia.

Late last year, Navalny was moved to a remote Arctic prison colony nicknamed “Polar Wolf” in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets region in northern Siberia.

People hold signs outside the Russian Embassy in Washington, DC, on February 16, 2024, following the death of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (Photo by Brendan SMIALOWSKI / AFP)

 

He said in January that his daily routine included prison walks in freezing temperatures.

Since being jailed in 2021, he spent more than 300 days in solitary confinement, where prison authorities kept him over alleged minor infringements of prison rules.

The last post on Navalny’s Telegram channel, which he managed through his lawyers and team in exile, was a tribute to his wife posted on Valentine’s Day.

In a documentary filmed before he returned to Russia, Navalny was asked what message he wanted to leave to the Russian people should he die or be killed.

“Don’t give up. You mustn’t, you can’t give up,” he said.

“All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing. Therefore, don’t do nothing.”