Navalny’s team says it still can’t find a hearse to carry him

Just hours before the funeral is scheduled to begin, Navalny’s team says it has still been unable to find a hearse to carry his body because of threats against the drivers by “unknown people.”

“At first we were not allowed to rent a funeral hall to say goodbye to Alexei,” his spokesperson, Kira Yarmysh, wrote on social media.

“Now, when just a funeral service is supposed to take place in the church, Ritual agents tell us that not a single hearse agrees to take the body there,” she added, referring to Ritual, Russia’s main funeral service. “Unknown people call all teams and threaten them not to take Alexei’s body anywhere.”

Heavy police presence outside the church where Navalny’s funeral will be held

Riot police officers have assembled near the Church of the Icon of the Mother of God Soothe My Sorrows in Moscow this morning. Barriers have also been set up at the site.

Relatives and supporters of Alexei Navalny are bidding farewell to the opposition leader at a funeral in southeastern Moscow, following a battle with authorities over the release of his body after his still-unexplained death in an Arctic penal colony.

Navalny allies say the Kremlin has tried to derail the funeral

The Kremlin, or at least those acting on the Kremlin’s behalf, has been attempting to derail the funeral, his team has said, by blocking their preferred date because it clashed with Putin’s state-of-the-union address yesterday. 

Even then, several Moscow churches declined to hold the service, his team said, and still hours beforehand, they were unable to find a hearse willing to carry his body.

Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, has blamed Putin for her husband’s death, alleging that he was poisoned on Putin’s orders with the nerve agent Novichok and that his body was held until traces of the poison had disappeared. The Kremlin has denied the accusation of poisoning.

Even after his death, “they abused his body and abused his mother,” Navalnaya said this week, in an apparent reference to claims by her mother-in-law, Lyudmila Navalnaya, 69, that officials had tried to blackmail her by insisting on a quiet, nonpublic funeral while holding the body for so long that it started to decompose.

The body was eventually returned last weekend.

Russian opposition leader to be buried in Moscow event that has become a new flashpoint

The funeral of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny is due to be held this morning, an event seen by many worldwide as representing a struggle between the country’s marginalized protest movement and President Vladimir Putin’s will to silence it.

Navalny, who died Feb. 16 aged 47 in an Arctic penal colony, was the most prominent dissenting voice in Putin’s Russia, where government critics are jailed or exiled, protest is effectively banned, and the press is shackled. Navalny’s team say he died from poisoning ordered by Putin, which the Russian government denies.

Navalny Funeral Moscow
The Borisovskoye Cemetery in Moscow on Friday.AP

Even in death, Navalny’s funeral could become a flashpoint between mourners and police trying to quash any expression of anti-Putin dissent in his memory, according to Navalny’s family and team. Already, around 400 people have been arrested for laying flowers at Navalny’s memorials across Russia, the human rights group OVD-Info said.

“I am not sure yet whether it will be peaceful or the police will arrest those who have come to say goodbye to my husband,” Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, said in a speech to the European Parliament this week.

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