Russia announces death of opposition leader Alexey Navalny in prison

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Prison service says the Putin critic collapsed and lost consciousness after a walk in a remote penal colony.

Imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny has died, state media reported, citing the prison service of the region where he had been serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism.

There was no immediate confirmation of the 47-year-old’s death from his team on Friday.

Navalny spokesperson Kira Yarmysh said his lawyer was travelling to the remote prison colony north of the Arctic Circle, but later expressed that there was “almost no hope” that Navalny is alive.

In a statement quoted by state media, the federal prison service said Navalny “felt bad” after a walk and lost consciousness “almost immediately”.

Navalny was in the IK-3 penal colony in Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region, about 1,900km (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, where he was transferred in December.

The “special regime” or “Polar Wolf” colony is among the harshest in Russia’s prison system and is located in a place with severe winters. Most inmates have been convicted of grave crimes. Kharp is about 100km (60 miles) from Vorkuta, whose coal mines were part of the Soviet gulag camp system.

“Medical staff arrived immediately, and an ambulance team was called,” the prison service said. “Resuscitation measures were carried out, which did not yield positive results. Paramedics confirmed the death of the convict. The causes of death are being established.”

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin had been informed of Navalny’s death.

The Russian prosecutor’s office has warned Russians against participating in a mass protest in the centre of Moscow after news of the death was reported.

Navalny aide Leonid Volkov posted on X: “Russian authorities publish a confession that they killed Alexei Navalny in prison. We do not have any way to confirm it or to prove this isn’t true.”

Lyudmila Navalnaya, Navalny’s mother, was quoted by Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta as saying that her son had been “alive, healthy and happy” when she last saw him on February 12.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia, who held a press conference at the Munich Security Summit attended by global leaders and officials, said that Putin and his associates should not go unpunished if the news of her husband’s death was confirmed.

She called on the international community to come together and fight against the “horrific regime” in Moscow.

Many world leaders put out statements saying Navalny “paid for his courage with his life” and that they hold Russia responsible for his imprisonment and death for standing up to Putin.

Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy reacted to the news and said it was “obvious” that Navalny had been killed by Putin.

“Like thousands of others who have been tortured,” he said, adding that this demonstrates why the Russian leader must be made to “lose everything and held accountable for his actions”.

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US President Joe Biden said he was “not surprised” but “outraged” about the news of Navalny’s death.

“He bravely stood up to the corruption, the violence and all the bad things the Putin government was doing … Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death.”

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also said that Navalny’s death “only underscores the weakness and rot at the heart of the system that Putin has built. Russia is responsible for this.”

A spokesperson later told reporters on Air Force One that the White House was calling for an investigation into Navalny’s death.

However, Maria Zakharova, the spokesperson for the Russian foreign ministry, criticised the West for already arriving at “conclusions” without forensic evidence. She said on Telegram that the immediate reactions “in the form of direct accusations against Russia are self-revealing”.

Statements by Western leaders about Navalny’s death are unacceptable and “absolutely rabid”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said, according to Interfax news agency.

Life sentence

Reporting from Moscow, Al Jazeera’s Yulia Shapovalova said that Russia’s prison service reported Navalny’s death in colony number 3 which is “a very, very harsh prison”, adding that “his health has been pretty bad lately”.

The official cause of death has not been announced and an investigation is under way, Shapovalova reported.

Navalny, a fierce critic of Putin, has been imprisoned since January 2021 when he returned to Moscow after recovering in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin.

His death less than a month before Russia holds elections that will give Putin another six years in power drew renewed criticism of the leader who has cracked down on all opposition at home.

Before Navalny was arrested, he led campaigns against corruption and organised major anti-Kremlin protests.

When Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Navalny strongly condemned the war in social media posts from prison and during his court appearances.

Less than a month after the start of the war, he was sentenced to an additional nine-year term for embezzlement and contempt of court in a case he and his supporters rejected as fabricated. The investigators immediately launched a new investigation and in August 2023, Navalny was convicted on charges of extremism and sentenced to 19 years in prison.

After the verdict, Navalny said he understood that he was “serving a life sentence, which is measured by the length of my life or the length of life of this regime”.

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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