Over 300 detained in Russia

A WOMAN places flowers as people pay tribute to Alexei Navalny at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024.
A WOMAN places flowers as people pay tribute to Alexei Navalny at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St. Petersburg, Russia, Sunday, Feb. 18, 2024. AP

OVER 300 people were detained in Russia while paying tribute to opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who died at a remote Arctic penal colony, a prominent rights group reported Sunday.

The sudden death of Navalny, 47, was a crushing blow to many Russians, who had pinned their hopes for the future on President Vladimir Putin’s fiercest foe. Navalny remained vocal in his unrelenting criticism of the Kremlin even after surviving a nerve agent poisoning and receiving multiple prison terms.

The news reverberated across the globe, with many world leaders blaming the death on Putin and his government. In an exchange with reporters shortly after leaving a Saturday church service, President Joe Biden reiterated his stance that Putin was ultimately to blame for Navalny’s death. “The fact of the matter is, Putin is responsible. Whether he ordered it, he’s responsible for the circumstance,” Biden said. “It’s a reflection of who he is. It cannot be tolerated.”

Other politicians took a more cautious stance. Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva said Sunday that he wouldn’t “jump to conclusions” over Navalny’s death. “If the death is under suspicion, we must first carry out an investigation to find out what the citizen (Navalny) died of,” Lula said in a press conference after returning from an African Union summit in Ethiopia on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, published a picture of the couple on Instagram Sunday in her first social media post since her husband’s death. The caption read simply: “I love you.”


Hundreds of people in dozens of Russian cities streamed to ad-hoc memorials and monuments to victims of political repression with flowers and candles on Friday and Saturday to pay tribute to the politician. In 39 cities, police detained 366 people by Sunday evening, according to the OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests and provides legal aid. Earlier in the weekend, the group reported 401 detentions in two days, but later updated the number and said that their count “may change both up and down over the next few days” as information is being verified.

More than 200 arrests were made in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, the group said. By Sunday evening, court officials in St. Petersburg reported rulings ordering 154 of those detained to serve from one to 14 days in jail.

Among those detained there was Grigory Mikhnov-Voitenko, a priest of the Apostolic Orthodox Church — a religious group independent of the Russian Orthodox Church — who announced plans on social media to hold a memorial service for Navalny and was arrested on Saturday morning outside his home.

He was charged with organizing a rally and placed in a holding cell in a police precinct, but was later hospitalized with a stroke, OVD-Info reported.

Memorial events also took place in cities across the world, from Germany to Finland.

Presidential election

The news of Navalny’s death came a month before a presidential election in Russia that is widely expected to give Putin another six years in power.

Questions about the cause of death lingered, and it remained unclear when the authorities would release Navalny’s body. More than 29,000 people have submitted requests to the Russian government asking for the politician’s remains to be handed over to his relatives, OVD-Info said Sunday.

Navalny’s team said Saturday that the politician was “murdered” and accused the authorities of deliberately stalling the release of the body. Navalny’s mother and lawyers received contradictory information from various institutions they visited in their quest to retrieve the body.

Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service reported that Navalny felt sick after a walk Friday and became unconscious at the penal colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenets region about 1,900 kilometers northeast of Moscow. An ambulance arrived, but he couldn’t be revived, the service said, adding that the cause of death is still “being established.”

Navalny had been jailed since January 2021, when he returned to Moscow after recuperating in Germany from nerve agent poisoning he blamed on the Kremlin. He received three prison terms since his arrest, on a number of charges he has rejected as politically motivated.

After the last verdict that handed him a 19-year term, 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.”


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