Fact Check

This the Last Photo Showing Alexei Navalny Alive?

One of Putin's most formidable opponents collapsed and died in an Arctic penal colony.

Published Feb. 16, 2024

 (Screenshot via X)
Image Via Screenshot via X
Claim:
An image captured of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny behind bars is the last photograph of him alive.
Context

The image in question was taken from a January 2024 hearing in which Navalny appeared via video link. His last appearance in court was recorded on Feb. 15, 2024, a day before his death. We do not know whether there are other photographs of Navalny taken in the day prior to his death.

On Feb. 16, 2024, Russian authorities revealed that Alexei Navalny, a vocal opponent of Russian President Vladimir Putin, had died in prison that day. Navalny, who staged large anti-government demonstrations and crusaded against corruption, had been sent to an Arctic penal colony in December 2023, where he was serving a 19-year-sentence on charges of extremism.

Photographs of Navalny purportedly from his prison went viral on social media. One post appeared to show him smiling behind bars, stating it was "the last photo of Navalny alive." 

Reportedly the last photo of Navalny alive
byu/457655676 inpics

This was not the last known photograph of Navalny. It was a screenshot from a video-link court appearance he made in January 2024. Navalny also appeared via video conference for another court appearance just a day before his death, on Feb. 15, 2024. However, we do not know whether there are more photographs of him between his last court appearance and his death. Until we learn more, we rate this claim as "Miscaptioned."

The above image appeared in an independent Russian news outlet Mediazona on Jan. 10, 2024. Navalny appeared via video as the court considered a lawsuit he filed against the prison administration in Russia's Vladimir region, accusing it of unlawful discipline. This was his first appearance after his prison transfer, and he made a few jokes that were captured in photos. This particular image of him smiling also appeared in January in Novaya Gazeta Europe, an independent, formerly Russian publication that moved to Latvia after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, and on Radio Free Europe.

According to Mediazona, Navalny was able to speak to reporters during that appearance and joked (according to Google Translate): "The conditions of detention are pah-pah-pah. A pebble for your garden, dear respondents. It's better here than in IK-6 in Vladimir." He even joked about his prison outfit. 


(Screenshot via Mediazona)

Navalny's last appearance in court took place the day before his death. According to a translation available on The Guardian, he complained about the many fines he had to pay and requested that the judge send him money "as my own is running out thanks to your decisions."

The video, which was released by Russian news outlet SOTA, was dated Feb. 15, 2024, and Navalny was standing and smiling. He was wearing the same prison uniform, and he stood in what appeared to be the same room as his in January court date, looking through a barred window. According to Reuters, SOTA reported that the court session was carried out after Navalny had an "argument" with a prison officer who tried to confiscate his pen.

After the hearing, Navalny wrote on X, "The Yamal prison decided to break Vladimir's [referring to his last prison] record of fawning and pleasing the Moscow authorities. They just gave me 15 days in solitary confinement." 

While this was reported to be his last known recorded appearance, it is possible there were other photographs taken during his last day alive. 

We also reported on the timing of the announcement of Navalny's death by Russian officials.

Sources

"Alexei Navalny Appears Healthy in Video-Link Court Hearing on Day before His Death – Video." The Guardian, 16 Feb. 2024. www.theguardian.com, https://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2024/feb/16/alexei-navalny-appears-healthy-in-video-link-court-hearing-on-day-before-his-death-video. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

Kramer, Andrew E., and Valerie Hopkins. "Aleksei Navalny, Putin Critic, Dies in Prison, Russian Authorities Say." The New York Times, 16 Feb. 2024. NYTimes.com, https://www.nytimes.com/2024/02/16/world/europe/aleksei-navalny-dead-russia.html. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

"Kremlin Foe Navalny, Smiling and Joking, Appears in Court via Video Link from an Arctic Prison." AP News, 10 Jan. 2024, https://apnews.com/article/russia-navalny-opposition-prison-putin-arctic-f3485b0978a6447e2a657f8b39ee0b50. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

Light, Felix. "Navalny Laughed and Cracked Jokes a Day before His Death." Reuters, 16 Feb. 2024. www.reuters.com, https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/court-day-before-his-death-alexei-navalny-laughed-cracked-jokes-2024-02-16/. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

"Navalny Makes Court Appearance via Video Link for First Time since Arctic Transfer." Novaya Gazeta Europe, 1704891300000, https://novayagazeta.eu/articles/2024/01/10/navalny-makes-court-appearance-via-video-link-for-first-time-since-arctic-transfer-en-news. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

"Navalny Makes First Court Appearance After Arctic Prison Transfer." The Moscow Times, 10 Jan. 2024, https://www.themoscowtimes.com/2024/01/10/navalny-makes-first-court-appearance-after-arctic-prison-transfer-a83684. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

"Navalny Smiles, Jokes At Hearing As Court Rejects His Challenge Over Prison Treatment." RFE-RL, 10 Jan. 2024, https://www.rferl.org/a/russia-navalny-court-rejects-challenge-prison/32768621.html. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

"World Leaders Blame Putin for Alexei Navalny's Death in a Russian Prison | Live Updates." AP News, https://apnews.com/live/alexei-navalny-death-russia-updates. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

"Первый суд Навального с Крайнего Севера. Онлайн." Медиазона, https://zona.media/online/2024/01/10/naval. Accessed 16 Feb. 2024.

Nur Nasreen Ibrahim is a reporter with experience working in television, international news coverage, fact checking, and creative writing.