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Russia says opposition leader Alexei Navalny died in prison

Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday and lost consciousness.
Russian media: Imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died
Posted at 5:29 AM, Feb 16, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-17 19:01:56-05

Alexei Navalny, who crusaded against official corruption and staged massive anti-Kremlin protests as President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe, died Friday in the Arctic penal colony where he was serving a 19-year sentence, Russia’s prison agency said. He was 47.

The stunning news — less than a month before an election that will give Putin another six years in power — brought renewed criticism and outrage directed at the Kremlin leader who has cracked down on all opposition at home.

In Moscow and other Russian cities, people laid flowers at monuments to victims of Soviet-era repression, but there was no immediate indication Navalny’s death would spark large protests, given that the opposition is already fractured and beleaguered. His death will deal it another heavy blow.

Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service reported Navalny felt sick after a walk Friday and lost consciousness at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,200 miles northeast of Moscow. An ambulance arrived but he could not be revived; the cause of death is "being established,” it said.

Navalny had been behind bars since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow to face certain arrest after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on the Kremlin. Since then, he was convicted three times, and rejected each case as politically motivated.

SEE MORE: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is reportedly missing

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

Hours after his death was reported, Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, made a dramatic appearance at a security conference in Germany where many world leaders had gathered, and said she had considered canceling her appearance.

“But then I thought what Alexei would do in my place. And I’m sure he would be here,” she said, adding she was unsure if she could believe the news from official Russian sources.

“But if this is true, I want Putin and everyone around Putin, Putin’s friends, his government to know that they will bear responsibility for what they did to our country, to my family and to my husband. And this day will come very soon.”

Praise for Navalny’s bravery poured in from Western leaders and others opposing Putin. Navalny’s health has deteriorated recently and the cause of death may never be known, but many of them said they held Russian authorities ultimately responsible for his death — particularly after the deaths of many Kremlin opponents.

U.S. President Joe Biden said Washington doesn't know exactly what happened, "but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was a consequence of something Putin and his thugs did.”

Navalny “could have lived safely in exile,” but instead returned to Russia to “continue his work,” despite knowing he could be imprisoned or killed “because he believe so deeply in his country, in Russa.”

SEE MORE: Putin's foe likely suffering from long-term effects of nerve agent

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Putin was told of Navalny’s death. The opposition leader's spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the team had no confirmation yet.

Russia’s main state TV channel interrupted its newscast to announce the death, and other state-controlled broadcasters also carried only terse reports. Shortly after the death was reported, the Russian SOTA social media channel shared video of Navalny — reportedly in a prison court on Thursday — laughing and joking with the judge via video link on one of several hearings about conditions in jail.

Navalny was moved in December from a penal colony in central Russia to a “special regime” facility — the highest security level for prisons. His allies decried the transfer to the remote colony as yet another attempt to silence Navalny and isolate him from his attorneys.

Before his arrest, Navalny campaigned against official corruption, organized major anti-Kremlin protests and ran for public office.

Navalny was born in Butyn, about 25 miles outside Moscow. He received a law degree from People’s Friendship University in 1998 and did a fellowship at Yale in 2010.

Besides his wife, Yulia Navalnaya, he is survived by a son and a daughter.


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