Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s “Smart Voting” bot disappeared from the Telegram messaging app following similar actions by Apple and Google on Friday at the start of a three-day parliamentary vote in Russia.
The bot, which told Navalny supporters which candidate they should support to topple Kremlin-aligned politicians, was withdrawn after Telegram said it would “limit the operation of bots associated with election campaigns.”
Russia-born Telegram founder Pavel Durov said he follows Apple and Google, which “set the rules for developers like us.”
In an article on his Telegram channel, he said the tech giants had “already this year” urged the hugely popular encrypted messenger in Russia to remove information that violates the laws of each country or risks exclusion from their stores. applications.
He said the removal of election-related robots was linked to Russia’s ban on campaigning during the vote.
“We consider this practice legitimate and urge Telegram users to respect it,” Durov wrote on Friday evening.
But he added that “the blocking of applications by Apple and Google is setting a dangerous precedent that will affect free speech in Russia and around the world.”
The election for seats in the lower house of the State Duma, which runs through Sunday, comes after a sweeping crackdown this year against opponents of President Vladimir Putin.
Navalny, who was arrested in January and has seen his allies arrested or flee the country and banned organizations, has nonetheless sought to shake the Kremlin’s grip on Parliament behind bars.
Its allies accused Apple and Google of “censorship” on Friday, while sources told AFP the companies had faced public threats from the Russian government and private threats of serious criminal charges and ‘imprisonment of local staff.
After Telegram removed the “Smart Voting” bot, a Twitter account associated with Navalny posted links to Google Docs with recommended candidates, claiming they were their last “remaining” tools.
On Saturday, Navalny’s team said Google had demanded they remove the documents following a request from Russian media regulator Roskomnadzor and would do so itself if they did not comply.
Google did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.
emg / yad