Russian opposition figure Kara-Murza urges Russians from court not to give up after Navalny’s death

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From behind bars in Siberia, prominent opposition figure Vladimir Kara-Murza on Thursday urged Russians not to give up after the death of Alexei Navalny and alleged there is a state-backed hit squad taking out opponents of President Vladimir Putin, according to a video posted on a social media channel.

A British-Russian citizen, Kara-Murza is serving a 25-year sentence for treason. He spoke from his prison cell while appearing via video link in court over a complaint against Russia’s Investigative Committee for what he believes were two poisoning attempts against him. He claimed the committee didn’t investigate the attempts properly.

Kara-Murza is one of several key opposition figures behind bars in Russia, while others are abroad or dead. He was found guilty of criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine and was handed a draconian sentence as part of an ongoing crackdown by Russian authorities against critics of the war and freedom of speech.

In January, he was moved to a prison in Siberia and placed in solitary confinement over an alleged minor infraction.

“We owe it … to our fallen comrades to continue to work with even greater strength and achieve what they lived and died for,” Kara-Murza said in the footage. The video was shared by the Russian Sota telegram channel.

Kara-Murza says the attempts to poison him took place in 2015 and 2017. In the first, he nearly died of kidney failure — though no cause was determined. He was hospitalized with a similar illness in 2017 and put into a medically induced coma. His wife said doctors confirmed he was poisoned.

Kara-Murza’s hearing on Thursday came after several months of postponements. According to the video shared by Sota, Kara-Murza alleged there is a “death squad within the Federal Security Service, a group of professional killers in the service of the state, whose task is to physically eliminate political opponents of the Putin regime.”

He said investigative journalists had shown the group of FSB officers participated in his poisoning, as well as Navalny’s poisoning with a nerve agent in 2020 and the surveillance of Russian opposition politician Boris Nemtsov before he was killed in 2015.

On Monday, Ilya Yashin, an opposition figure serving 8 1/2 years in prison for criticizing Russia’s war in Ukraine, alleged in a post shared on his behalf on his social media account that Putin had killed Navalny.

“I have no doubt that it was Putin. He’s a war criminal,” Yashin said. “Navalny was his key opponent in Russia and was hated by the Kremlin. Putin had both motive and opportunity. I am convinced that he ordered the killing.”

“I feel a black emptiness inside,” he said, adding that he will continue to speak out even though he believes he is also in danger.

The Kremlin has previously denied any involvement in the illnesses and deaths of the opposition figures, including Navalny.

Meanwhile, Navalny’s family are campaigning to have his body returned to them. His mother filed a lawsuit Wednesday at a court in the Arctic city of Salekhard, contesting officials’ refusal to release her son’s body, Russia’s state news agency Tass reported.

A closed-door hearing has been scheduled for March 4, the report said, quoting court officials.

Lyudmila Navalnaya has been trying to retrieve Navalny’s body since Saturday, following his death in a penal colony in Russia’s far north a day earlier. She has been unable to find out where his body is being held, Navalny’s team reported.

On Wednesday, Navalnaya laid flowers and a picture of her son at a monument dedicated to journalists in Salekhard, close to the prison where Navalny died. Floral tributes she had left a day earlier at the town’s memorial to the victims of repression had been cleared away overnight, while several police officers continued to keep watch close to the monument.

Navalnaya had appealed to Putin on Tuesday to release her son’s remains so that she could bury him with dignity.

“They wouldn’t release his body to me. And they’re not even telling me where he is,” a black-clad Navalnaya, 69, said in the video, standing in front of the barbed wire of Penal Colony No. 3 in Kharp, about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow.

“I’m reaching out to you, Vladimir Putin. The resolution of this matter depends solely on you. Let me finally see my son. I demand that Alexei’s body is released immediately, so that I can bury him like a human being,” she said in the video, posted on social media by Navalny’s team.

Russian authorities have said the cause of Navalny’s death is still unknown and have refused to release his body for the next two weeks as the preliminary inquest continues, Navalny’s team said.

His team accused the government of stalling to try to hide evidence. On Monday, Navalny’s widow, Yulia Navalnaya, released a video accusing Putin of killing her husband and alleged the refusal to release his body was part of a cover-up.

“They are cowardly and meanly hiding his body, refusing to give it to his mother and lying miserably,” she said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected the allegations of a cover-up, telling reporters these are “absolutely unfounded, insolent accusations about the head of the Russian state.”

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