The body of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny has been handed over to his mother, an aide to Mr Navalny said on his social media account.

Ivan Zhdanov, the director of Mr Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Foundation, made the announcement on his Telegram account and thanked “everyone” who had called on Russian authorities to return Mr Navalny’s body to his mother.

Earlier Saturday, Yulia Navalnaya, Mr Navalny’s widow, accused President Vladimir Putin of mocking Christianity by trying to force his mother to agree to a secret funeral after his death in a penal colony.

“Thank you very much. Thanks to everyone who wrote and recorded video messages. You all did what you needed to do. Thank you. Alexei Navalny’s body has been given to his mother,” Mr Zhdanov wrote.

Russia Navalny
Alexei Navalny’s mother Lyudmila Navalnaya (Navalny Team/AP)

Mr Navalny, 47, Russia’s most well-known opposition politician, unexpectedly died on February 16 in an Arctic penal colony and his family have been fighting for more than a week to have his body returned to them.

Prominent Russians released videos calling on authorities to release the body and western nations have hit Russia with more sanctions as punishment for Mr Navalny’s death as well as for the second anniversary of its invasion of Ukraine.

Mr Navalny’s mother, Lyudmila Navalnaya, is still in Salekhard, Mr Navalny’s press secretary Kira Yarmysh said on X, formerly Twitter.

Lyudmila Navalnaya has been in the Arctic region for more than a week, demanding that Russian authorities return the body of her son to her.

“The funeral is still pending,” Ms Yarmysh said, questioning whether authorities will allow it to go ahead “as the family wants and as Alexei deserves”.

Earlier Saturday, Mr Navalny’s widow said in a video that his mother was being “literally tortured” by authorities who had threatened to bury Mr Navalny in the Arctic prison.

A woman places a piece of paper with words of grief for Alexei Navalny  at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St Petersburg, Russia
A woman places a piece of paper with words of grief for Alexei Navalny at the Memorial to Victims of Political Repression in St Petersburg, Russia (Dmitri Lovetsky/AP)

They, she said, suggested to his mother that she did not have much time to make a decision because the body is decomposing.

“Give us the body of my husband,” she said earlier. “You tortured him alive, and now you keep torturing him dead. You mock the remains of the dead.”

Mr Navalny’s death prompted hundreds of Russians across the country to stream to impromptu memorials with flowers and candles.

Authorities have detained scores of people as they seek to suppress any major outpouring of sympathy for Mr Putin’s fiercest foe before the presidential election he is almost certain to win. Russians on social media say officials do not want to return Mr Navalny’s body to his family, because they fear a public show of support for him.

His widow accused Mr Putin, an Orthodox Christian, of killing Mr Navalny.

“No true Christian could ever do what Putin is now doing with the body of Alexei,” she said, asking: “What will you do with his corpse? How low will you sink to mock the man you murdered?”

Saturday marked nine days since the opposition leader’s death, a day when Orthodox Christians hold a memorial service.

A tribute to Alexei Navalny near the Russian embassy in London
A tribute to Alexei Navalny near the Russian embassy in London (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

People across Russia came out to mark the occasion and honour Mr Navalny’s memory by gathering at Orthodox churches, leaving flowers at public monuments.

Muscovites lined up outside the city’s Christ the Savior Cathedral to pay their respects, according to photos and videos published by independent Russian news outlet SOTAvision. The video also shows Russian police stationed nearby and officers stopping several people for an ID check.

As of Saturday evening, at least 38 people had been detained in Russia for showing support for Mr Navalny, according to the OVD-Info rights group that tracks political arrests.

They included Elena Osipova, a 78-year-old artist from St Petersburg who stood in a street with a poster showing Mr Navalny with angel wings, and Sergei Karabatov, 64, who came to a Moscow monument to victims of political repression with flowers and a note saying “Don’t think this is the end”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov rejected allegations that Mr Putin was involved in Mr Navalny’s death, calling them “absolutely unfounded, insolent accusations about the head of the Russian state”.

Musician Nadya Tolokonnikova, who became widely known after spending nearly two years in prison for taking part in a 2012 protest with her band Pussy Riot inside Moscow’s Christ the Savior Cathedral, was one of many prominent Russians who released a video in which she accused Mr Putin of hypocrisy and asked him to release Mr Navalny’s body.

“We were imprisoned for allegedly trampling on traditional values. But no one tramples on traditional Russian values more than you, Putin, your officials and your priests who pray for all the murder that you do, year after year, day after day,” said Ms Tolokonnikova, who lives abroad. “Putin, have a conscience, give his mother the body of her son.”

Lyudmila Navalnaya said on Thursday that investigators allowed her to see her son’s body in the morgue in the Arctic city of Salekhard. She had filed a lawsuit at a court in Salekhard contesting officials’ refusal to release the body. A closed-door hearing had been scheduled for March 4.

Ms Yarmysh said that Lyudmila Navalnaya was shown a medical certificate stating that her son died of “natural causes”.