Putin critic’s team says hearse drivers refused to take Navalny’s body to Moscow for funeral

(CNN)- Efforts to hire a hearse to transport the body of Russian rival Alexei Navalny to Moscow for his funeral have been foiled by unidentified persons, the late politician’s team said on Thursday.

Spokeswoman Kira Yarmysh said the drivers were “called by unknown people and threatened not to take Alexei’s body anywhere.”

According to Yarmysh, he was told that “no hearse would agree to take the body there.”

Navalny’s team also had difficulty renting a venue for his funeral, which will take place this Friday at 2:00 p.m. local time (6 a.m. Miami time) at the Church of the Icon in Moscow’s Maryino district. The ceremony will be held at the Shrine of the Mother of God, where Navalny lived. After this he will be buried in the Borisov cemetery.

Navalny's funeral

Church of the Icon of the Mother of God in Moscow, where Navalny’s funeral will be held. (Credit: Olga Maltseva/AFP/Getty Images)

Yarmysh said on Tuesday that several venues claimed they were already booked for that date or refused booking when Navalny’s name was mentioned, while one site explicitly said they were being booked for the dead opposition. Was banned from working with the leader’s team.

Navalny’s team initially planned a public farewell and funeral for this Thursday, but were informed that “there were no cemetery workers available who could dig a grave,” Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, said on Wednesday. Said.

Navalny’s wife has blamed Putin for her husband’s death

Navalny died on February 16 in a Siberian penal colony, where he was serving a 19-year prison sentence after being found guilty last August of creating an extremist community, funding extremist activists and several other crimes. He was already serving an 11-and-a-half-year sentence in a maximum security facility for fraud and other charges, which he always denied.

The Russian prison service said Navalny “felt unwell after a walk” in the penal colony and “almost immediately” lost consciousness.

Navalny was the most high-profile opposition leader in Russia and spent years criticizing Putin, who has been in power for nearly a quarter of a century. For his activism, Navalny took great personal risk. His death came just weeks before presidential elections scheduled for March 15, which the international community regards as no more than a formality that would ensure Putin a fifth term in power.

Navalny’s death was met with grief and outrage around the world as well as in Russia, where small acts of political dissent carry enormous risks.

The politician returned to his country in 2021 from Germany, where he received medical care after being poisoned with Novichok, a Soviet-era nerve agent. Upon arrival, Navalny was immediately arrested – charges he dismissed as politically motivated – and spent the rest of his life in prison.

His wife Yulia Navalnaya has blamed President Putin for her husband’s death.

“Putin killed my husband,” she said during a speech to the European Parliament on Wednesday. “On his orders, Alexei was tortured for three years,” he said, referring to the time the opposition leader spent in prison.

“He lived starved in a small stone cell, isolated from the outside world and was denied visits and phone calls. And then the letter also. And then they killed him. “Even after this, they mistreated his body,” he said, while Navalny’s team says his remains were withheld to pressure the family into agreeing to a private funeral.

The Kremlin has rejected any accusations of responsibility for Navalny’s death.

Navalnya also said he was worried police would crack down on mourners at Friday’s funeral.

More than 400 people were detained in 32 Russian cities for holding impromptu tributes to Navalny, according to human rights monitoring group OVD-Info.

CNN’s Anna Chernova contributed to this report.

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