Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s “smart voting” app has disappeared from Telegram Messenger following similar moves by Apple and Google at the start of a three-day parliamentary vote in Russia on Friday.
The app, which advised Navalny supporters that any candidate should return them with Kremlin-affiliated politicians, would “limit the effectiveness of apps related to the election campaign” after the telegram was announced.
Pavel Durav, the Russian-born founder of Telegram, said he was following Apple and Google, which “dictate the rules of the game to developers like us.”
In a post on his telegram channel, he said the technology giants had requested the widely popular encrypted messenger in Russia “already this year” that the information would violate the laws of individual countries or face removal from their app stores.
He said the removal of the election-related app was related to the ban on Russian campaigns during the vote.
“We consider this practice legitimate and urge telegram users to respect it,” Durv wrote late Friday night.
But he added that “blocking Apple and Google’s applications creates a dangerous precedent that will affect freedom of speech in Russia and around the world.”
Elections to the lower house of state Dumar are underway until Sunday after a crackdown on opponents of President Vladimir Putin this year.
Navalny, who was detained in January and has seen his associates arrested or fled the country and his organization banned, is still aiming to destroy the Kremlin’s occupation of parliament from prison cells.
On Friday, his associates accused Apple and Google of “censorship”, while sources told AFP that the companies faced public threats from the Russian government and serious criminal allegations and personal threats to imprison local workers.
After Telegram removed the “smart voting” app, a Twitter account linked to Navalny posted a link to Google Docs with recommended candidates saying they had their last “remaining” tool.
On Saturday, Navalny’s team said that Google had demanded the deletion of the documents following a request from Russia’s media regulator Roscommonadzor and that it would do so itself if it did not comply.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment from AFP.