Media regulator warns Western tech giants could be held criminally liable if they do not comply with Russian law.
Jailed Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny has accused Google and Apple of showing “cowardice” and acting as accomplices of Russian President Vladimir Putin by removing a voting app before a parliamentary election last week, according to messages posted on the social media accounts.
Navalny’s supporters earlier accused the United States-based tech giants of caving in to Kremlin pressure by removing the anti-government tactical voting app from their stores at the start of three days of parliamentary voting, which ended on Sunday. Devised by allies of Navalny, the app gave people detailed recommendations on who to vote for in an effort to thwart the ruling, pro-Kremlin United Russia party.
Navalny, who is in prison, has added his criticism, according to comments carried by his social media accounts on Thursday.
“The giants Apple @Apple and Google @Google have complied with the Kremlin’s demands and removed our app from their stores. My beloved YouTube has deleted our video, and the Telegram messenger has blocked our bot,” Navalny said in a post relayed through his lawyers.
“I know that most of those who work at Google, Apple, etc. are honest and good people. I urge them not to put up with the cowardice of their bosses,” he said.
(1/14) If something surprised me in the latest elections, it was not how Putin forged the results, but how obediently the almighty Big Tech turned into his accomplices.
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) September 23, 2021
Navalny also said he was “terribly upset and disappointed” with Pavel Durov, founder and owner of the Telegram messaging app. The Smart Voting bot also disappeared from the app during the election.
Russia-born Durov had said he was following Apple and Google, which “dictate the rules of the game to developers like us”.
Election results on Monday for the State Duma lower house of parliament handed a win to United Russia amid accusations of mass fraud from backers of Navalny and other parties. United Russia received 49.8 percent of the vote for the 225 seats apportioned by parties and won 198 out of 225 seats for lawmakers who are chosen directly by voters. The election commission said the vote was clean and the Kremlin called it an honest vote.
Google decided to remove the app after being told its local staff could otherwise face jail time, one person familiar with the situation said last week, declining to be named.
Responding to that comment, Navalny said in his social media posts: “If so, then keeping silent about it is the worst crime. This is encouragement of a hostage-taking terrorist.”
The Kremlin welcomed the removal of the app, saying the tech giants had conformed with “the letter and spirit” of Russian law.
Navalny was detained in January and has seen his allies arrested or flee the country and his organisations banned.