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‘I just want to follow the law’ One week after Navalny’s death, his mother refuses to cave to the Russian authorities’ intimidation tactics

Source: Meduza

One week after Alexey Navalny’s death, the Russian authorities have yet to release his body to his family. While state investigators did allow his mother to see the body in person, they used the occasion to try to pressure her into agreeing to a secret funeral, openly admitting that they fear the situation’s potential to mobilize protesters. But despite the government’s repeated attempts to intimidate Lyudmila Navalnaya into submission, she and her son’s team of activists have remained steadfast in their mission to recover his body and learn the truth about his death. Meduza sums up the latest developments.

On Thursday, the Russian authorities allowed Alexey Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, to see her son’s body for the first time since his death on February 16. In a video published on Navalny’s YouTube channel, Lyudmila said that investigators took her to the morgue in secret and had her sign her son’s death certificate. They also claimed to have established his cause of death and showed her the medical examiner’s report, which reportedly states that Navalny died of “natural causes.” When Navalnaya asked investigators to hand over her son’s body, they threatened to “do something” with it if she didn’t agree to a secret burial, she said.

Inspector Voropaev told me openly: “Time is not on your side — the corpse is decomposing.” I don’t want any special treatment, I just want everything to be done according to the law. I demand that my son’s body be handed over to me immediately.

Alexey Navalny on YouTube

‘No ceremony or traditions’

On Friday, investigators called Navalny’s mother and gave her an ultimatum: either she could agree to a secret burial, with no public funeral, or they would bury him on the grounds of the prison where he died. They gave her three hours to decide. Navalnaya refused to comply with the ultimatum and demanded that the authorities follow Russian law.

Legally, state investigators are required to release the body of the deceased within two days after the cause of death is established. Navalny’s team says that based on the documents his mother saw, this two-day period will end on Saturday. 

Shortly after Navalny’s team reported the authorities’ threat, his mother’s legal team filed a request with the Investigative Committee branch in Russia's Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug to open a criminal case against the local investigators refusing to release Navalny’s body.

The statement notes that a state investigator told Lyudmila Navalnaya that even though her son’s cause of death had been established, “officials want the burial to be held in secret, with no ceremony or traditions.” It also says that on February 22, an investigator threatened to “carry out unlawful actions with the body” to “prevent its burial.”

Also on Friday, Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, published a video message calling on Russian security officials to share any information they have about the circumstances of Navalny’s death. “If you feel the same pain that we feel, write to us,” Zhdanov said, adding that the organization will provide 20,000 euros ($21,643) and emigration assistance to anyone who provides “valuable and complete” information. He later raised the reward to 50,000 euros ($54,125).

Blurring the truth

As Navalny’s family and associates continued fighting to get his body released, a fabricated audio recording, purportedly from Navalny’s mother, began circulating on social media. Ilya Ber, head of the fact-checking project Provereno Media, was the first to report on the fake voice message. 

The recording starts with a voice addressing Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, by name and ends with the words: “I despise you and forbid you from exploiting the name of my son, my child.”

Ber believes the audio message was created using a neural network. “The voice only vaguely resembles Lyudmila Navalnaya’s because there was hardly anything to train the neural network on,” Ber noted. In his opinion, the fake recording was created based on Lyudmila’s video message from earlier this week in which she demanded that Putin hand over her son’s body. According to Ber, the recording was published on Thursday on a Telegram channel connected to Russian propagandist Kristina Potupchik. It was then spread by pro-war channels and other propagandists. 

In the wake of Navalny’s death, fake messages attributed to him or to his family are not only being used in smear campaigns but also being spread by scammers. Earlier this week, fraudsters posing as Navalny supporters circulated a photo of a fake letter they claimed the politician sent to his wife shortly before his death. The letter describes an investment scheme Navalny was allegedly planning to “ensure the country’s financial well-being” and urges people to send their money so they can get in on the “opportunity.” The post includes a link that allegedly allows victims to download the “initiative” and start “earning” — but actually leads to a website run by the scammers.

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