• SATURDAY
  • APRIL 20, 2024

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny dies in jail


  • Europe
  • Staff Correspondent
  • Published: 16 Feb 2024, 01:00 AM

Russia's most significant opposition leader for the past decade, Alexei Navalny, has died in prison inside the Arctic Circle, the prison service has said.

Seen as President Vladimir Putin's most vociferous critic, Navalny was serving a 19-year jail term on charges widely considered politically motivated.

He was moved to an Arctic penal colony, said to be one of Russia's toughest jails, late last year.

The prison service in the Yamalo-Nenets district said Navalny had "felt unwell" after a walk on Friday.

He had "almost immediately lost consciousness", it said in a statement, adding that an emergency medical team had immediately been called and tried to resuscitate him but without success.

"The emergency doctors declared the prisoner dead. Cause of death is being established."

Navalny's lawyer Leonid Solovyov told Russian media he would not be commenting yet, although his close aide Leonid Volkov wrote on X: "Russian authorities publish a confession that they killed Alexei Navalny in prison. We do not have any way to confirm it or to prove this isn't true."

Within minutes of Navalny's death being announced by the prison service, the international community hailed the courage of Vladimir Putin's biggest domestic adversary.

France said he had paid with his life for resisting Russian "oppression" while Norway's foreign minister said Russian authorities bore a great responsibility for his death.

Mr Putin's spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said merely that Navalny's death had been "reported to the president", who was on a visit to the city of Chelyabinsk.

Most of the Russian president's critics have fled Russia, but Alexei Navalny returned in January 2021, after months of medical treatment. In August 2020 he was poisoned at the end of a trip to Siberia with a Novichok nerve agent.

His team succeeded in flying him out to Germany for specialist treatment and on his return to Moscow he was immediately taken into custody. He would never leave jail again in the next 37 months.

Navalny had long sought to challenge Vladimir Putin at the ballot box, but he was barred from running in the 2018 presidential election. Next month, Russia's leader will stand unchallenged by any meaningful opposition.

Anti-war candidate Boris Nadezhdin was banned from standing in the election because of supposed irregularities found in the thousands of signatures submitted in support of his candidacy.

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