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Calls for investigations into Alexei Navalny’s death in Russian prison reverberate around the globe

Calls for investigations into Alexei Navalny’s death in Russian prison reverberate around the globe
The murder of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny should make it clear the sort of regime Vladimir Putin represents. (Photo: EPA-EFE / Hannibal Hanschke)

The world reacted with shock to news of the death in prison of the leading opposition leader in Russia, Alexei Navalny, on Friday, 16 February.

Russian opposition politician and leading Kremlin critic, Alexei Navalny died after losing consciousness and collapsing at the Arctic prison where he was serving a 19-year long sentence, the Russian prison service said on Friday. He was 47. 

His death is being widely described by Western leaders and commentators as an assassination. There have been immediate calls for investigations into Navalny’s death. 

The UN Human Rights Office has called for a “credible investigation” into Navalny’s death.

There was no immediate response from the South African Presidency. 

Flowers and candles are left at a memorial on 16 February 2024 in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin, after the announcement that the Kremlin’s most prominent critic Alexei Navalny had died in an Arctic prison. (Photo: John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

Shocking assassination

“This was a shocking assassination by Putin to silence his biggest critic. Alexei Navalny wanted to be the Mandela of Russia. Now he will be the Martin Luther King,” Bill Browder told Daily Maverick. 

Bill Browder, a British-American financier, became one of Putin’s fiercest critics after his friend and lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in a Russian prison in 2009, where he had been incarcerated while investigating the Russian government’s raids on Browder’s businesses.

Browder launched a campaign for the US Congress to adopt the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian President Vladimir Putin and his cronies. It has since been replicated around the world. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Jailed Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is dead – prison service

According to a statement released by the Russian prison service on Friday, Navalny “felt unwell after a walk, almost immediately losing consciousness”.

“The medical staff of the institution arrived immediately, and an ambulance team was called. All necessary resuscitation measures were carried out, which did not yield positive results. Doctors of the ambulance stated the death of the convict. The causes of death are being established,” read the statement carried by Reuters

 The Guardian reported that Navalny looked healthy when he appeared by video for a courtroom appeal on Thursday.

“That the ANC secretary-general was in Moscow fraternising with the enemies of freedom in the moment of Navalny’s death, should send a resounding message to all South Africans as to where our government really stands.” – Emma Powell

Navalny was arrested in 2021 after his return to Russia from Germany, where he had been treated for a suspected assassination attempt by poison. Before his imprisonment, he represented by far the greatest local political threat to Putin

Read more in Daily Maverick: ‘Navalny’ – the tragic and inspiring story of a man who stood up to Putin

Suspicious timing

The death of the jailed opposition leader comes a month before presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Russia, between 15-17 March 2024. The vote’s outcome is widely viewed as a foregone conclusion, with Russia’s authoritarian political system, Putin is expected to assume another six-year term as president. 

It will be the first presidential election since Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: War in Ukraine 

A spokesperson for Navalny, Kira Yarmysh, said on X that his team could not immediately confirm his death. 

“We have no confirmation of this yet,” said Yarmysh, adding that a lawyer was travelling to the remote town of Kharp — about 1,900km northeast of Moscow — where the prison is. “As soon as we have some information, we will report it.”

Mbalula in Moscow

Meanwhile in Moscow, ANC secretary-general Fikile Mbalula, this week, led the governing party’s delegation to the Kremlin, where several political parties from the Global South will finalise the details of the structure that is being formed to “confront neocolonialism”. The informal forum is being held in Russia, and is an initiative of the Russian United party, which is aligned with Putin. 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Vladimir Putin justified Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Poland; South Africa must denounce him

Daily Maverick sent a request to Mbalula for comment on Navalny’s death, but a response was not received by the time of publication. 

mbalula moscow neocolonialism

Illustrative image, from left | Russian President Vladimir Putin; ANC Secretary-General Fikile Mbalula (Photos: Contributor / Getty Images | Gallo Images / Luba Lesolle)

Hold Putin accountable

Speaking at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) on Friday, Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya asked the world to hold Putin accountable.

The DA’s Shadow Minister for International Relations, Emma Powell, who was present at the MSC when Navalnaya spoke, told Daily Maverick that “Navalny will be recorded in our history books for his unyielding bravery in the face of oppression and tyranny”.

“The Kremlin bears sole responsibility for this shocking tragedy,” said Powell.

“That the ANC secretary-general was in Moscow fraternising with the enemies of freedom in the moment of Navalny’s death, should send a resounding message to all South Africans as to where our government really stands,” she said. 

European leaders expressed shock at Navalny’s death, blaming Putin and his government. Nato Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “deeply saddened and disturbed” by the news of Navalny’s death. “We need to establish all the facts and Russia needs to answer all the serious questions about the circumstances of his death,” he said. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said it was “obvious” that Putin was directly behind his death. 

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock concluded: “As nobody else, Alexei Navaly was a symbol for a free and democratic Russia. That is why he had to die.” DM

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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Peppy Anckorn says:

    Shame on the ANC for supporting and fraternising with a murderer.

  • Roel Goris says:

    A global hero for freedom dies at the hands of Putin’s brutal regime. RIP Alexei Navalny.
    This happens while Fikile “Mr Fokol” Mbalula leads an ANC delegation in Moscow to help form an “anti-colonial forum” under the leadership of Putin’s United Russia party. Are you proud now, Cyril? Are you proud now, ANC? How deeply shameful – you deserve the free world’s utter contempt.

  • David Walker says:

    How much money will Mbalula be collecting for the ANC for his fawning loyalty to a brutal, war-mongering, murdering tyrant?

  • Glyn Morgan says:

    Mr Ramaphosa, We The People of South Africa, are awaiting your comments on the death of Alexei Navaly. YOU and the ANC will be judged on your views.

  • Malcolm Dunkeld says:

    I am not surprised that South Africa’s loyal Dirco troika Ramaphosa, Pandor and eminence grise Zane Dangor are silent. When you rely on a Russian-owned managanese mine to save you from bankruptcy it is better to shut up rather than expose your benefactor as a right-wing thug in the good old Stalin tradition. Weep Mandela, weep Tutu, weep Hani.

  • Dov de Jong says:

    We await the ANC’s comment on Navalny’s murder with interest.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    I urge anyone who can read John Sweeney’s book – Killer in the Kremlin – to do so. This award-winning journalist has spent numerous years on this subject and has interviewed many, including who were in the inner circle and who still fear for their lives even though they no longer live in Russia. This is Putin’s work and modus operandi- no doubt about it. Anyone who dares stand up to him or exposes him, disappears forever or is murdered. This mass-murdering, deranged and evil monster has Stalin’s DNA and is wicked beyond belief. The day cannot come soon enough when he will be no longer!!!

  • Johan Buys says:

    Not even Verwoerd or his subsequent office bearers was dumb enough or callous enough to kill Mandela in prison.

    But sure : the SG of our governing party is in Moscow for a conference about neocolonialism hosted by the country that is colonizing Ukraine and that murders political opponents.

    You could not make up a farce like this

  • Richard Baker says:

    Shame on our government and its party. No comment, sympathy or condemnation of the death of Navalny.
    They’ve painted themselves into a corner by siding with Russia and must now sit in silence.
    As citizens and lovers of our nation, we should stand up and make it clear that the ANC is not us or what South Africa is. They do not speak or stay silent in our name. RIP Alexei-more courage in your little finger than our entire government.

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