Aleksei Navalny’s Body Was Returned to His Mother, Allies Say

The Russian authorities have transferred the body of the opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny to his mother, his spokeswoman said on Saturday, ending a grim battle for custody of his remains, but it is unclear whether he will get a funeral that the public can attend.

“Aleksei’s body has been handed over to his mother,” Mr. Navalny’s spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said in a statement posted on social media. “The funeral is yet to come. We don’t know whether the authorities will interfere with carrying it out in the way the family wants and as Aleksei deserves.”

Mr. Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, on Saturday was still in the northern city of Salekhard, near the Arctic prison where Mr. Navalny was reported to have died on Feb. 16, Ms. Yarmysh said. She added that the opposition leader’s team would release information about the funeral “as it becomes available.”

Mr. Navalny’s family and aides have accused the Russian authorities of keeping his body hostage and “blackmailing” his mother into agreeing to bury him in secret. On Friday, Ms. Yarmysh said that officials in Salekhard had given Ms. Navalnaya an ultimatum demanding that she assent to such a secret funeral within three hours, or else that he would be buried on prison grounds.

That deadline passed on Friday evening without any new information from Mr. Navalny’s aides. The Russian authorities have not commented on the Navalny team’s version of events. The circumstances of Mr. Navalny’s death remain unclear; according to Ms. Yarmysh, Ms. Navalnaya’ received a medical report earlier this week that said he had died of natural causes.

The news that Ms. Navalnaya, 69, received custody of the body suggested that the Russian authorities had relented after a dayslong social media campaign by Mr. Navalny’s team. On Saturday, Mr. Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, 47, released a six-minute YouTube video denouncing President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia for maligning the Christian values he professes as he “mocks Aleksei’s mother and forces her to agree to a secret funeral.”

The question now is how Mr. Navalny’s funeral will take shape. The dispute over custody of his body appears to reflect the Kremlin’s fears about a public funeral in Moscow turning into a focal point for protest.


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