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Navalny’s mother asks Putin to release her son’s body in video filmed outside Arctic penal colony

By Joshua Berlinger and Anna Chernova, CNN

(CNN) — Alexey Navalny’s family has made a direct plea to Russian President Vladimir Putin for the release of the Russian dissident’s body, five days after he died behind bars in a penal colony.

Standing in the snow outside the facility where her son was imprisoned, Lyudmila Navalnaya addressed Putin directly, saying she has not been told where Navalny’s body is.

“The solution to this problem depends only on you. Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexey’s body be immediately handed over so that I can bury him humanely,” Navalnaya said in a video posted Tuesday.

Navalny, one of the highest-profile dissidents during Putin’s nearly 25 years in power, died while serving a 19-year prison sentence on charges he said were politically motivated. The Russian prison service said on Friday that Navalny “felt unwell after a walk” and “almost immediately” lost consciousness before his death.

When authorities informed of her son’s death, Navalnaya was also told that the body was picked up by investigators and taken to a morgue near the penal colony, according to Navalny spokeswoman Kira Yarmish. Navalnaya arrived there Saturday to find the morgue closed. Navalny’s lawyer tried to call a number on the building’s door, but he was told the body was not there. Two days later Navalnaya was rebuffed in person at the morgue. Staff there refused to say whether the body was inside.

Navalnaya arrived at the morgue Saturday to find it closed, Yarmish said on social media. Navalny’s lawyer tried to call a number on the building’s door, but he was told the body was not there. Two days later, Navalnaya was rebuffed in person at the morgue, Yarmish said, adding that staff refused to say whether the body was inside.

It’s unclear exactly why the body is still with Russian authorities.

Navalny’s team was informed on Saturday that the investigation had been concluded and foul play had been ruled out. Two days later, Navalny’s mother was told the investigation would be extended and the cause of death remained unknown, Yarmish said on social media.

Yarmish added on Monday that Navalny’s body would not be released for another 14 days, during which time it will be under “some sort of chemical examination.”

A previous plea

It’s unclear if Navalnaya’s plea directly to the Russian leader will work, but there is precedent.

After Navalny was poisoned with the Soviet-era nerve agent Novichok in 2020, his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, wrote to Putin directly to ask that her husband be allowed to leave Russia and get treatment in Germany. Putin later said that he “immediately gave the order” to let Navalny go when he received Navalnaya’s letter.

Navalnaya accused Putin of making her a widow shortly after Navalny’s death on Friday. She also alleged Russian authorities were keeping the body to make it impossible to determine the cause of death.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Tuesday called those allegations “absolutely unfounded” and “boorish.”

Navalnaya did not offer proof but said on social media that: “We know exactly why Putin killed Alexey three days ago. We’ll tell you about it soon. We will definitely also find out who committed this crime and how exactly. We’ll name their names and show their faces.”

Addressing the European Union Foreign Affairs Council on Monday, she noted that her husband was killed exactly a month before Russia goes to the polls to choose a new president. Putin is running virtually unopposed in the contest.

“These elections are fake, but Putin still needs them. For propaganda. He wants the whole world to believe that everyone in Russia supports and admires him. Don’t believe this propaganda,” she said.

Navalnaya’s address at the EU followed a handful of public remarks in the days following her husband’s death. She also made a surprise appearance at the Munich Security Conference at the weekend. Many are wondering whether Navalnaya, who had spent most of her life out of the spotlight, is now angling to take the mantle as the new face of Russia’s opposition in exile.

Within Russia, space for dissent is more limited than it has been in decades. Hundreds were reportedly arrested after crowds turned out to honor Navalny following his death.

Navalny’s younger brother, Oleg, has been added to the Russian interior ministry’s wanted list for unspecified charges, Russian state media reported. Oleg Navalny had previously been convicted of fraud in a case that Kremlin critics said was meant to put pressure on the older brother.

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CNN’s Radina Gigova and Pauline Lockwood contributed reporting.

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