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Mother of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny says she has seen his body, is being pressured to hold secret funeral

By Anna Chernova, Sebastian Shukla, Christian Edwards and AnneClaire Stapleton, CNN

(CNN) — The mother of Russian opposition politician Alexey Navalny, who died in an Arctic penal colony last week, said Thursday she had seen her son’s body and was being pressured to hold a secret funeral.

Lyudmila Navalnaya said she had seen her son’s body on Wednesday in a morgue in Salekhard, the Siberian town near the prison where Navalny had been held since December, after being denied access to it for days after his death.

She also saw a medical report stating his cause of death as being natural, Navalny’s spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, said on X. The late Kremlin critic’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, reiterated on Thursday that she believes Russian President Vladimir Putin killed her husband and urged the media not to be diverted by Russian government narratives.

In a video posted on her son’s YouTube channel, Navalny’s mother said: “According to the law, they should have given me Alexey’s body right away, but they haven’t done it yet. Instead, they blackmail me and set conditions for where, when and how Alexey should be buried.”

“I’m recording this video because they started threatening me. Looking into my eyes they say that if I don’t agree to a secret funeral they will do something with my son’s body,” she said.

Navalnaya claimed that an investigator named Voropayev told her: “Time is working against you. The corpse is decomposing.” She did not give the full name of the official.

She also claimed the Russian Investigative Committee looking into the circumstances of her son’s death would like to bury his body “secretly without saying goodbye.” She said the investigators “claim that they know the cause of death and that they have all the medical legal documents,” and that she had signed his medical death certificate.

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, told Russian journalist Alexander Plyushchev the committee had set numerous conditions for Navalny’s mother to follow before they would release the body.

Among those conditions, he claimed, were that that any funeral should be kept “among the family” and not announced, to prevent crowds from gathering, and that the body should be transported to Moscow on a special plane. The family would also have to be accompanied by an employee of the committee at all times before the funeral, he said, and Navalny’s body would have to be kept in either the Moscow or Vladimir region prior to burial because the committee was “afraid that the morgue will be stormed.”

Only when those conditions were met would the family receive Navalny’s death certificate, Zhdanov said.

Navalny’s mother was first denied the cemetery of her choice, and then both parties agreed to hold the funeral at Khovanskoye cemetery in Moscow, Zhdanov said, adding that the parties hadn’t agreed on the farewell hall. Navalny’s mother was pressured into agreeing to these conditions, Zhdanov added.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov told CNN’s Matthew Chance that he had not seen the comments from Navalny’s mother regarding her son’s body and the issues she claims she is experiencing with investigators.

“Unfortunately, I have not seen her words so I cannot comment on that,” Peskov said. He added that the Kremlin was “dealing with different issues which are of great importance for our country.”

Navalny’s wife, Navalnaya, had earlier accused Russian authorities of “hiding” his body in an attempt to disguise the cause of his death. She said they were “lying pathetically” and waiting for “traces of another of Putin’s Novichoks to disappear.” The Kremlin has said an investigation into the circumstances around Navalny’s death is “underway” and the results are currently “unknown.”

Navalny’s mother’s claims to have seen his body come almost a week after his death was announced on February 16. The news drew barbed reaction from Western leaders, including US President Joe Biden, who pinned the blame on his Russian counterpart, saying that “what has happened to Navalny is yet more proof of Putin’s brutality.”

Russia meanwhile has accused the US of “hysteria,” regarding his death. “The US acts as the prosecutors, as the judge, and as the punisher all in one, and this hysteria regarding the death of Navalny is a prime example of that,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Thursday at a G20 press conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. “These people have no right to interfere in our home affairs, especially given their own problems,” Lavrov said.

US President Joe Biden met with Navalny’s wife and daughter in California on Thursday, where he expressed his condolences and his “admiration” for Navalny’s “extraordinary courage and his legacy of fighting against corruption.”

Navalny was Russia’s highest-profile opposition leader and spent years criticizing Putin, who has been in power for nearly a quarter of a century, at great personal risk. His death came weeks before the country’s presidential elections scheduled for March 17, which is widely seen by the international community as little more than a formality that will secure Putin a fifth term in power.

He returned to Russia in 2021 from Germany, where he had been treated after being poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. On arrival Navalny was swiftly arrested – on charges he dismissed as politically motivated – and spent the rest of his life in prison.

The Russian prison service said Navalny “felt unwell after a walk” in his Siberian penal colony and “almost immediately” lost consciousness.

Navalny was sentenced to 19 years in prison in August after being found guilty of creating an extremist community, financing extremist activists and various other crimes. He was already serving sentences of 11-and-a-half years in a maximum security facility on fraud and other changes he denies.

He was initially imprisoned in a penal colony about 150 miles east of Moscow, but his lawyers in December said they had lost contact with him for nearly three weeks. After filing 680 requests to locate him, his team announced on December 25 that they had “found” Navalny more than 1,000 miles away at the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp, known as “Polar Wolf.”

Navalny spent his final weeks in the IK-3 colony, where he described the “freezing” conditions to a Moscow court, telling them he slept under a newspaper for warmth.

This is a developing story and will be updated

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