Alexey Navalny's funeral in Russia draws crowds to Moscow church despite tight security

Thousands gather for Alexey Navalny's funeral in Moscow, risking arrest

People lined up for at least half a mile outside the Moscow church where Alexey Navalny's funeral took place Friday to bid farewell to Russia's most prominent opposition figure. Navalny, one of the most vocal critics of President Vladimir Putin, died two weeks ago in a remote Russian prison, and his family and allies have accused the Russian leader of having him killed.

There was a large police presence and fences were erected by Russian authorities around the church. Nevertheless, crowds chanted the opposition leader's name, as well as slogans like: "Do not give up!" "Russia without Putin!" and "Russia will be free!"

An image shared by Alexey Navalny's organization shows the late Russian opposition leader in his casket during his funeral service at the Mother of God 'Relieve My Sorrows' church in Moscow, Russia, March 1, 2024. Reuters/Handout/Alexey Navalny

U.S. Ambassador to Russia Lynne Tracy was inside the church for the service.

"Alexey Navalny remains a shining example of what Russia could & should be," the U.S. Embassy in Russia said in a statement on social media. "His death is a tragic reminder of the lengths the Kremlin will go to silence its critics. Our hearts go out to his family, friends, supporters, & all those he has inspired to work for a brighter future."

As the funeral commenced, and image of what appeared to be Navalny's open casket was broadcast by his allies. In the image, Navalny's body is seen covered in roses and surrounded by mourners. The church service ended quickly and the casket was then taken to the Borisov Cemetery, about 1.5 miles away, where his friends and members of his family kissed him goodbye before his casket was closed and lowered into the ground.

Navalny's wife, Yulia Navalnaya, posted a message paying tribute to her husband on social media, thanking him, "for love, for always supporting me, for making me laugh even from prison, for the fact that you always thought about me. I don't know how to live without you, but I will try to make you up there happy for me and proud of me," she said. "I don't know if I can handle it or not, but I will try."

Navalny, 47, died in an Arctic penal colony on Feb. 16. Prison authorities said he died of natural causes. His family fought for over a week to have his body returned to them. It was finally handed over to his mother on Saturday. Navalny's family and allies said they struggled to plan his funeral because Russian authorities discouraged funeral homes, public halls and hearse drivers from working with them.

The Kremlin warned members of the public on Friday against any unsanctioned gatherings in support of Navalny.

"Just a reminder that we have a law that must be followed. Any unauthorized gatherings will be in violation of the law, and those who participate in them will be held accountable — again, in line with the current law," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

At least 56 people were detained in 14 cities across Russia on Friday, the OVD-Info rights group, which tracks political arrests and provides legal aid, said.

Who was Alexey Navalny?

Navalny, who survived at least two suspected assassination attempts with poison, including an attack with the nerve agent Novichok in 2020, was the most outspoken critic of Putin's government before he was imprisoned in 2021.

When he returned to Russia after receiving treatment for Novichok poisoning in Germany, Navalny was initially handed a nine-year sentence in a high-security prison for parole violations, fraud and contempt of court, but was later convicted of promoting "extremism." His sentence was extended by 19 years in August 2023, and he was transferred to another high-security prison with a reputation for abuse — known as the "torture conveyor belt" — which raised further concerns about his safety.

"Without public protection, Alexey will be face to face with those who have already tried to kill him, and nothing will stop them from trying again," his spokesperson, Yarmysh, said after the court's decision. "We are now talking not only about Alexey's freedom, but also about his life."

Navalny and many outside observers always considered the charges against him baseless political retaliation for his criticism of Putin and the Kremlin's policies, both foreign and domestic. The U.S. State Department also considered his prosecution and imprisonment "politically motivated."

Alexey Navalny: The 2020 60 Minutes Interview

Anhelina Shamlii contributed to this report.


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