Alexei Navalny's funeral goes ahead despite pressure

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The funeral of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny took place in Moscow on Friday, even as his team had earlier accused authorities of trying to disrupt it and prevent people from gathering to pay their respects to Vladimir Putin's most potent critic.

The funeral service was held at a small church in the southern suburb of Marino, with the Russian opposition leader's casket open during the service. Navalny was to be buried at the nearby Borisov cemetery, according to his spokeswoman, Kira Yarmysh.

Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila, and the mother of his wife attended, consoling each other, but his widow Yulia and their two children -- as well as Navalny's brother Oleg -- could not attend the funeral fearing arrest. They posted messages on social media during the service expressing their love for him and promising him they would make him proud.

Navalny's team had accused authorities of trying to block a public funeral, fearing protests, but his colleagues on Thursday insisted anyone wishing to say farewell should come regardless of threats.

PHOTO: Funeral service workers bring the coffin of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny inside the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God, during his funeral in Moscow, Russia, 01 Mar. 1, 2024.  (Sergei Ilnitsky/epa-efe/shutters/SERGEI ILNITSKY/EPA-EFE/Shutters)
PHOTO: Funeral service workers bring the coffin of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny inside the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God, during his funeral in Moscow, Russia, 01 Mar. 1, 2024. (Sergei Ilnitsky/epa-efe/shutters/SERGEI ILNITSKY/EPA-EFE/Shutters)
PHOTO: Lyudmila Navalnaya and Anatoly Navalny, the mother and father of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attend their son's funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, Mar. 1, 2024.  (Reuters)
PHOTO: Lyudmila Navalnaya and Anatoly Navalny, the mother and father of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, attend their son's funeral at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Russia, Mar. 1, 2024. (Reuters)

Some 91 people had been arrested in 19 cities nationwide at commemorations, according to an independent nongovernmental organization that monitors arrests, but in general police so far have largely not moved to disperse crowds.

Navalny was buried to the music from the final scene of "Terminator 2," a film he loved and a last joke from him typical of his humor.

People lined up for hours to pay respects at Navalny's grave, with police allowing small groups of mourners to go in. Crowds have also chanted anti-war slogans in Moscow, the largest such demonstrations since the start of the war. The crowds sometimes also shouted “Ukrainians are good people.”

Navalny's team has also called on people outside Moscow to go to memorials for Navalny in their respective cities.

PHOTO: People walk towards the Borisovskoye cemetery during the funeral of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia, Mar. 1, 2024.  (Reuters)
PHOTO: People walk towards the Borisovskoye cemetery during the funeral of Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Russia, Mar. 1, 2024. (Reuters)

"Despite all the resistance, the farewell to Alexey will definitely take place tomorrow," Yarmysh wrote Thursday on X, formerly Twitter, adding that the service will begin at 2 p.m. local time and the burial will take place two hours later. "If you are in Moscow -- come," she said.

Since Navalny's death in an Arctic prison colony two weeks ago, police have detained hundreds of people trying to lay flowers at monuments to political repression to honor him.

Photos circulated by local Russian social media news channels Thursday evening appeared to show police stacking barricades near the church where the funeral service would be held.

PHOTO: Mother of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Lyudmila Navalnaya, grieves on the coffin with her son's body during his burial at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Mar. 1, 2024.  (Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)
PHOTO: Mother of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, Lyudmila Navalnaya, grieves on the coffin with her son's body during his burial at the Borisovskoye cemetery in Moscow, Mar. 1, 2024. (Sergei Ilnitsky/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

After authorities initially refused to hand over Navalny's body to his mother, his team accused them of continuing to try to disrupt the burial, alleging that funeral homes and cemeteries were pressured not to help them. Russian authorities gave Navalny's body to his mother more than a week after the opposition leader's Feb. 16 death.

Yarmysh on Thursday said they were struggling to find a hearse to carry Navalny's body because undertakers were allegedly being threatened. Moscow authorities on Thursday evening also refused to authorize a request to hold a memorial march on Saturday of up to 50,000 people.

Yekaterina Duntsova, a liberal opposition activist, posted a photograph of the refusal from the Moscow mayor's office, which cited COVID restrictions as justification for blocking the march, despite Moscow not enforcing restrictions in the city since the early months of the pandemic in 2020.

PHOTO: The body of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen during a funeral service at the Mother of God Quench My Sorrows church in Moscow, Mar 1, 2024.  (AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: The body of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is seen during a funeral service at the Mother of God Quench My Sorrows church in Moscow, Mar 1, 2024. (AFP via Getty Images)

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Navalny's family and allies have accused Russia of killing the Putin critic in prison. Navalny had been previously poisoned and nearly died in an assassination attempt blamed on the Russian president.

Some Western countries, including the United States, have said Putin bears responsibility for Navalny's death. "We don't know exactly what happened but there is no doubt that the death of Navalny was the result of something that Putin and his friends did," President Joe Biden said.

The level of repression in Russia means it's difficult to predict how many people will try to attend Navalny's funeral. After the opposition leader Boris Nemtsov was gunned down in front of the Kremlin in 2015, around 50,000 people marched through the center of Moscow for his funeral. Navalny likely has an even stronger following, but the environment is now vastly different in Russia, where there's currently almost zero tolerance for dissent and virtually all independent opposition figures are driven into exile or jailed.

PHOTO: Mourners gather in front of the Mother of God Quench My Sorrows church ahead of a funeral service for late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, Mar. 1, 2024.  (Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Mourners gather in front of the Mother of God Quench My Sorrows church ahead of a funeral service for late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, in Moscow, Mar. 1, 2024. (Alexander Nemenov/AFP via Getty Images)

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Navalny, who was 47, for most of the last decade emerged as the unrivaled opponent of Putin's regime.

He built a millions-strong following through innovative anti-corruption investigations that exposed the ill-gotten wealth of Putin and senior Russian officials, publishing them as humorous, viral videos. He sought to run for president and built up a grassroots political movement, leading protests and conducting tactical voting campaigns aimed at undercutting Putin's rule.

Navalny was poisoned with a Novichok nerve agent while on a plane to Moscow in August 2020. He was flown to Germany, where he received treatment and doctors confirmed he'd been poisoned. The U.S. later sanctioned four Russians it said were involved in the poisoning and who were members of Russia's Federal Security Service, or the FSB -- the main successor agency to the Soviet Union's KGB.

PHOTO: Cemetery workers prepare a grave at the Borisovo cemetery ahead of the burial of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Mar. 1, 2024.  (Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Cemetery workers prepare a grave at the Borisovo cemetery ahead of the burial of late Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, Mar. 1, 2024. (Olga Maltseva/AFP via Getty Images)

Despite the assassination attempt, Navalny returned to Russia in early 2021 and was immediately imprisoned on fraud and extremism charges that were widely dismissed as politically motivated. Put on trial again while in prison, Navalny continued to mock and criticize Putin's regime and organize peaceful efforts to weaken it.

In life, Navalny led many peaceful demonstrations throughout Moscow in defiance of bans by authorities, denouncing official corruption and calling for free elections. Police arrested thousands of people at the protests, taking an ever harder line. Since Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, virtually no public protest has been permitted, with even those holding single-person pickets holding blank pieces of paper being detained.

Still, it appeared likely people would attempt to reach Friday's funeral.

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Navalny's death has devastated Russia's already beleaguered anti-Kremlin opposition. His wife, Yulia Navalnaya, has vowed to continue his fight, making public appearances and continuing to call for action against Putin. In a speech at the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday, she called Putin a "bloody monster" and urged countries to treat him as the head of an "organized crime gang" and to find innovative ways to target his and his circle's assets in their territory.

PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia, opposition politician Lyubov Sobol and other demonstrators march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in downtown Moscow, Feb. 29, 2020.  (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny, his wife Yulia, opposition politician Lyubov Sobol and other demonstrators march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in downtown Moscow, Feb. 29, 2020. (Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty Images)

Navalnaya has lived in exile for several years and would likely face arrest if she returned to Russia.

She accused Putin and Moscow's mayor, Sergey Sobyanin, on Wednesday of trying to prevent a public ceremony for Navalny.

"People in the Kremlin killed him, then they abused Alexey's body, then abused his mother, now they are abusing his memory," she wrote on X. "We don't want any special treatment -- just give the opportunity to people to say goodbye normally to Alexey. Just don't interfere, please."

PHOTO: Jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via a video link from the IK-3 penal colony above the Arctic circle at the Supreme Court in Moscow, Jan. 11, 2024. (Vera Savina/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Jailed Russian opposition figure Alexei Navalny is seen on a screen via a video link from the IK-3 penal colony above the Arctic circle at the Supreme Court in Moscow, Jan. 11, 2024. (Vera Savina/AFP via Getty Images)

Alexei Navalny's funeral goes ahead despite pressure originally appeared on abcnews.go.com