Navalny allies accuse Telegram of censorship in Russian election By Reuters
© Reuters. The second day of a long-running vote at Moscow’s Public Election Monitoring Center, September 18th 2021 is being watched by observers. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny accused Telegram of censorship on Saturday after the popular messaging app followed Google and Apple (NASDAQ:) in restricting access to their voting campaign in Russia’s parliamentary election.
Alphabet (NASDAQ) and Apple have been accused of following Kremlin orders after taking an app out of their stores, which Navalny’s aides had intended to use against ruling party.
In an attempt to defeat the party backing President Vladimir Putin, this app provides detailed suggestions on which candidates to vote for. After a severe crackdown in 2018, it is the only lever Navalny and his allies left.
Pavel Durov (Telegram founder), who is a true libertarian and has overcome past censorship to say that the platform will block all election campaigns services including those used by Navalny’s aides for voter recommendations.
According to Durov, the Russian ban on election campaigning after polls open was legitimate. This ban is comparable to other bans across many countries.
Kira Yarmysh, Navalny’s spokesperson, condemned the decision.
On Twitter, she said that “it’s a disgrace when thecensorship is imposed… by private companies which allegedly defend ideas of freedom.”
Ivan Zhdanov was a political friend of Navalny and said that he didn’t believe Telegram’s explanation. He also stated that the decision appeared to have been made in consultation with Russian authorities.
Navalny’s supporters said that the move was not an outright blow because their voting recommendations could be found elsewhere on social networks.
It is considered a milestone in Russia’s internet crackdown and standoff with U.S. technology firms.
Russia long sought to control its internet portion. This is where anti-Kremlin political figures have followers and critics of Putin are active.
The ruling United Russia Party is still widely expected to win the election despite a ratings slump. On Friday, the voting opened and will continue through Sunday. This follows the Kremlin’s biggest domestic crackdown in years.
On Saturday, the Telegram feed of Navalny’s team continued to work normally. It included links to Russian voter recommendations via Google Docs.
The team also maintained a Telegram feed that was used by activists. They claimed Russia told Google to delete the Google Docs recommendations and that the U.S. had asked Navalny to remove them.
Google didn’t immediately reply to our request for comment.
Durov claimed that Google’s and Apple’s bans on the Navalny application had established a dangerous precedent. This meant Telegram was less vulnerable to government demands.
Durov stated that Telegram relies on Apple and Google for its operation because they hold a dominant place in the market for mobile operating systems. Without them, his platform wouldn’t have been able resist a Russian ban between 2018 and 2020.
Russia blocked Telegram in April 2018. However, the ban was lifted more than two decades later.
In a Telegram post, Durov stated that “the app block by Apple or Google creates danger for freedom of expression throughout Russia and around the world.”
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