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Alexei Navalny death reports ‘tragic and horrifying,’ Justin Trudeau says

Click to play video: 'Navalny death: Trudeau says Canada committed to holding Putin responsible for actions'
Navalny death: Trudeau says Canada committed to holding Putin responsible for actions
WATCH: Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says the country remains committed to holding Putin responsible for his actions, adding that the world must continue to protect and defend democracy everywhere. David Akin has more – Feb 16, 2024

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says reports of Alexei Navalny’s death are “tragic and horrifying.”

Trudeau made the remarks on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Friday after international media reports, citing Russian prison officials, said the fiercest critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin has died in prison.

However, there has not yet been any official confirmation of those reports from those close to Navalny, including his legal team.

“Reports of Alexei Navalny’s death are tragic and horrifying. An unwavering advocate for Russian democracy and freedom, his courage was unparalleled. To be clear: He should never have been imprisoned to begin with,” Trudeau said.

 

“Let this be an important reminder that we must continue to promote, protect, and defend democracy everywhere. The consequences of not doing so are stark. I’m sending my deepest condolences to Alexei Navalny’s family – and to all those around the world who had championed his pursuit of justice. Canada remains committed to holding Putin responsible for his actions.”

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Trudeau later told a crowd at the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce that now is a time to reflect on what Navalny fought for.

“It is a moment to reflect on his courage, on his inspiration for all of us, and double and triple down in our resolve as Canadians and as a country to continue to stand up against Putin, particularly in regards to Ukraine, but stand up for the values and principles we believe in – in a world that is more challenging and more destabilized than we’ve seen in a very long time,” he said.

“We need to recommit ourselves every day to honour the fight that he and so many others who have often given their their entire lives to freedom of others. We need to take a moment to reflect on that.”

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Click to play video: 'Putin’s history of silencing dissent in wake of Navalny’s death'
Putin’s history of silencing dissent in wake of Navalny’s death

Navalny, 47, has been serving a 19-year sentence on charges of extremism in a “special regime” penal colony above the Arctic Circle. He was moved there in December 2023. His allies have labelled the sentences against him as politically motivated.

Russia’s Federal Prison Service said in a statement that Navalny felt unwell after a walk on Friday and lost consciousness. An ambulance arrived to try to rehabilitate him, but he died, The Associated Press and Reuters reported, citing those Russian officials.

The service said the cause of death was “being established.”

A view of the entrance of the prison colony in the town of Kharp, in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region about 1,900 kilometers (1,200 miles) northeast of Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, Jan. 23, 2024. AP Photo

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Putin has been told about Navalny’s death, and Russia’s Investigate Committee said it has launched a procedural probe into the death.

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His allies decried his December prison transfer to the Arctic Circle as yet another attempt to force Navalny into silence. The remote region is notorious for long and severe winters.

Reaction to the news has been swift.

Click to play video: '‘Putin is responsible’ for Alexei Navalny’s death: Biden'
‘Putin is responsible’ for Alexei Navalny’s death: Biden

Navalny’s wife, Yulia Navalnaya, told reporters at the Munich Security Conference Putin and his supporters must be held accountable.

“I don’t know if we should believe the terrible news we have heard. We cannot believe Putin and his government because they lie incessantly. But, if it is indeed true, then I would like to say the following: Putin and all those who work for him, his entire entourage, his friends, I want them to know that they will not go unpunished,” she said in Russian.

“They will be punished for what they have done to our country, for what they have done to my family, for what they have done to my husband. They will be held responsible and this day will come.”

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Click to play video: 'Navalny death: World leaders react to news, condemn Putin'
Navalny death: World leaders react to news, condemn Putin

U.S. President Joe Biden said he was both “not surprised and outraged” by the reports.

“Reports of his death, if they’re true and I have no reason to believe that they’re not, Russian authorities are going to tell their own story. But make no mistake, make no mistake, Putin is responsible for Navalny’s death. Putin is responsible. What has happened to Navalny is yet more proof of Putin’s brutality,” he said.

“I just want to say God bless Alexei Navalny, his courage will not be forgotten, and I’m sure it will not be the only courage we see coming out of Russia in the near term.”

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said he was “deeply saddened and disturbed” by the reports 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.

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How did Navalny gain so much traction?

Unlike Navalny, Putin’s political opponents have often faded amid factional disputes or went into exile after imprisonment, suspected poisonings or other heavy repression.

He gained attention by focusing on corruption in Russia’s murky mix of politicians and businesses; Navalny’s work had a pocketbook appeal to Russians’ widespread sense of being cheated, and he carried stronger resonance than more abstract and philosophical concerns about democratic ideals and human rights.

Click to play video: 'Russian court sentences Alexei Navalny to 19 more years in prison'
Russian court sentences Alexei Navalny to 19 more years in prison

Although state-controlled TV channels ignored Navalny, his investigations resonated with younger Russians via YouTube videos and posts on his website and social media accounts.

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The strategy helped him reach into the hinterlands far from the political and cultural centres of Moscow and St. Petersburg and establish a strong network of regional offices.

In 2017, an assailant threw green-hued disinfectant in his face, seriously damaging one of his eyes; while serving a jail sentence in 2019 for involvement in an election protest, he was taken to the hospital with an illness that authorities said was an allergic reaction, but some doctors said it appeared to be poisoning.

A year later, on Aug. 20, 2020, he became severely ill on a flight to Moscow from the Siberian city of Tomsk. The plane made an emergency landing in the city of Omsk, where he spent two days in a hospital while supporters begged doctors to allow him to be taken to Germany for treatment.

A man holds a poster reads “Putin is a killer” in front of the Russian embassy in Berlin, Germany, Friday, Feb. 16, 2024. Russia’s prison agency says that imprisoned opposition leader Alexei Navalny has died. Paul Zinken/dpa via AP

Once in Germany, doctors determined he had been poisoned with a strain of Novichok – similar to the nerve agent that nearly killed former Russian spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter in England in 2018 and resulted in the death of another woman.

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The Kremlin rejected it was behind the poisoning, but Navalny challenged the denial.

He released the recording of a call he said he made to an alleged member of a group of officers of the Federal Security Service (FSB), who purportedly carried out the poisoning and then tried to cover it up. The FSB dismissed the recording as fake.

But rather than remain abroad, Navalny and his wife boarded a plane for Moscow on Jan. 17, 2021. On arrival, he told waiting journalists that he was pleased to be back, walked to passport control and into custody. In just over two weeks, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison.

Click to play video: 'Navalny lawyer says Russian court’s rejection of appeal is ‘unlawful’'
Navalny lawyer says Russian court’s rejection of appeal is ‘unlawful’

The events sparked massive protests that reached to Russia’s farthest corners and saw more than 10,000 people detained by police.

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When Putin sent troops to invade Ukraine on Feb. 24, 2022, Navalny strongly condemned the war in social media posts from prison and during his court appearances.

Besides his wife, Navalny is survived by a son and a daughter.

— with files from Reuters and The Associated Press

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