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Le Monde
Le Monde
17 Feb 2024

Images Le

The mountain of carnations placed on the Solovetsky Stone, the memorial in Moscow dedicated to the victims of Soviet repression, didn't last more than a few hours. During the night of Friday, February 16, men armed with garbage bags cleared the space, sweeping away the hundreds of flowers placed on the monument by anonymous people in tribute to political opponent Alexei Navalny, who died in a prison colony in the Arctic.

A little later, the same men were spotted filling more garbage bags on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge opposite the Kremlin, where another opponent, Boris Nemtsov, was assassinated on February 27, 2015. Russian citizens still regularly lay flowers and candles here.

Once again, in contemporary Russia, a leading political opponent pays for his engagement with his life. Nemtsov was murdered at age 55, shot four times in the back. Navalny, his heir and friend, died at age 47 in the secrecy of a Russian prison. This filiation was reflected to the very end, in the post-mortem treatment reserved for them: an unpleasant memory that needs to be swept away.

Navalny's death was announced midday on Friday by the penitentiary administration of the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous District, where the inmate had been transferred in December 2023. "On February 16, 2024, in penitentiary center number 3, prisoner Navalny A. felt unwell after a walk and almost immediately lost consciousness." State Russian media, including RT, had already reported that the prisoner suffered from an embolism, information obtained from anonymous official sources. According to the prison administration, the team of nurses immediately dispatched to the scene failed to resuscitate him.

"He didn't die, he was killed," corrected the sign brandished by a demonstrator in Belgrade, Serbia, one of the many cities around the world where demonstrators, most of them Russians, took to the streets to express their emotion.

Will we ever know what happened to Navalny? On the eve of his death, he still appeared in good shape, even able to joke during a judicial hearing conducted by videoconference, in a case opposing him to his former colony. While the first months of incarceration had been difficult, and Navalny still bore the after-effects of the Novichok nerve agent poisoning he suffered in August 2020, in recent weeks he had not complained of any particular pain. On February 12, his parents had even been able to see him − it was the first visiting right they had been granted since his incarceration in January 2021. They found him to be "sturdy." As of Saturday, they have received no new information, nor any indication, as to the possible handover of their son's body.

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