Allies of Alexei Navalny accuses Telegram of censorship in Russia
Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny accused Telegram of censorship on Saturday after the popular messaging app followed Google and Apple in restricting access to their voting campaign in Russia’s parliamentary election.
The activists have already accused Alphabet’s Google and Apple of buckling under Kremlin pressure after they removed an app from their stores that Navalny’s allies had hoped to use against the ruling party at the election.
The app gives detailed recommendations on who to vote for in an effort to challenge the party that backs President Vladimir Putin. It is one of the few levers Navalny’s allies have left after a sweeping crackdown this year.
Telegram’s founder Pavel Durov said the platform would block election campaign services, including one used by Navalny’s allies to give voter recommendations. He said the decision had been taken because of a Russian ban on campaigning once polls are open, which he considered legitimate.
Navalny’s spokesperson Kira Yarmysh condemned the move. “It’s a real disgrace when the censorship is imposed by private companies that allegedly defend the ideas of freedom,” she wrote on Twitter.
Ivan Zhdanov, a political ally of Navalny, said he did not believe Telegram’s justification and that the move looked to have been agreed somehow with Russia’s authorities.
The ruling United Russia Party is still widely expected to win the election despite a ratings slump. The voting, which opened on Friday and runs through Sunday, follows the biggest crackdown on the Kremlin’s domestic opponents in years.
The Navalny team’s Telegram feed continued to function normally on Saturday, and included links to voter recommendations available in Russia via Google Docs.
On a separate Telegram feed also used by the team, activists said Russia had told Google to remove the recommendations in Google Docs and that the US company had in turn asked Navalny’s team to take them down.
Durov said Google and Apple’s restrictions of the Navalny app had set a dangerous precedent and meant Telegram was more vulnerable to government pressure.