Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny dies in Arctic prison

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Russian opposition activist Alexei Navalny has died in an Arctic penal colony, according to the country’s prison service, sparking condemnation from Western leaders who blamed President Vladimir Putin for his death.

Putin’s most prominent opponent, Navalny, fell ill after a walk in the prison yard and “lost consciousness almost immediately”, the Russian prison service said on Friday, adding that attempts to resuscitate the 47-year-old had failed and that “the The reasons for his death are being clarified.”

US President Joe Biden was among Western leaders who were quick to suggest that Navalny’s death was caused by the Russian government.

“Make no mistake: Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death,” Biden said. “Putin is responsible. What happened to Navalny is further proof of Putin’s brutality.”

Emmanuel Macron, president of France, said: “In today’s Russia, free spirits are sent to gulags and sentenced to death. Anger and indignation. . . My thoughts go out to his family, his loved ones and the Russian people.”

A charismatic anti-corruption campaigner, Navalny was jailed just over three years ago after returning to Russia from Germany after being treated for nerve agent poisoning that he blamed on Putin.

The Kremlin then moved steadily to isolate him from the outside world by holding him in increasingly restrictive conditions in notoriously harsh and remote prison colonies.

In December, he was transferred to a prison in Russia’s Yamalo-Nenets region, above the Arctic Circle, after disappearing from public view and losing contact with his legal team for several weeks.

The group of Navalny supporters in exile said on Friday they had “no confirmation” of the activist’s death, adding that a lawyer for Navalny was on his way to prison.

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, gave an unannounced speech at the Munich Security Conference, saying: “If this is true, I want Putin and his entire entourage, Putin’s friends and his government to know that they will be held accountable. responsible for what they have done to our country.” country, to my family and to my husband. And that day will come very soon.”

In Moscow, Russians lined up in the snow to lay flowers in Navalny’s honor at a memorial for victims of Soviet prison camps, according to videos posted on social media. They laid flowers in several other cities despite the recent harsh crackdown on demonstrations of dissent against Putin.

Police forced them to leave the area, said Olga, 31, a financial analyst who attended the Moscow memorial near the headquarters of the FSB intelligence agency.

“As I was leaving, I saw several people with flowers heading towards the monument, which I guess is the most important thing in all of this: to see others share your shock and resentment,” he said.

More than 100 people were detained at Navalny memorials in eight cities, according to rights watchdog OVD-Info.

Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, told reporters that Russia would leave the investigation into Navalny’s death to prison authorities.

He rejected Western claims that the Kremlin was responsible. “There is no information. And they’re making these statements. It is clear that these are totally unfounded and unacceptable statements. They are unacceptable,” he said, according to Interfax.

Margarita Simonyan, director of the state news network RT, said: “I won’t even try to explain [to the west] that everyone has long forgotten about him, that there was no point in killing him, especially before the elections [next month] – benefits the opposing forces.

Despite his conviction, Navalny had continued to exchange regular messages with supporters through letters and with his lawyers in which he regularly spoke out against Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

Last year the Kremlin tried to further isolate Navalny by arresting several of his lawyers on charges of being part of an “extremist group”, with a penalty of up to six years in prison.

It also repeatedly punished him by holding him in solitary confinement on 27 separate occasions for alleged breaches of prison rules, the latest time on Wednesday.

Dmitry Muratov, editor of the independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta and a Nobel laureate, wrote that repeated stints in the punishment cell probably contributed to his death. “You can’t move, the food isn’t nutritious, there’s not enough air, it’s always cold,” he wrote. “Alexei Navalny suffered suffering and torture for three years. As Navalny’s doctor told me: the body can’t handle it.”

Garry Kasparov, a former opposition leader in exile, wrote: “Putin tried and failed to kill Navalny quickly and secretly with poison, and now he has murdered him slowly and publicly in prison. He was killed for exposing Putin and his mafia as the crooks and thieves that they are.”

Additional reporting by Henry Foy in Brussels, Felicia Schwartz in Monaco, Leila Abboud in Paris and Lauren Fedor in Washington

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