During the election, Telegram Messenger blocks a Russian opposition bot.
The “Smart Voting” bot of imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny has vanished from the Telegram communication service, after similar measures by Apple and Google on Friday, the first day of a three-day legislative vote in Russia.
After Telegram stated it would “restrict the functionality of bots affiliated with election campaigns,” the bot that told Navalny supporters which candidate to support to topple Kremlin-aligned legislators was deactivated.
Pavel Durov, the founder of Telegram, who was born in Russia, 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 claimed that the internet giants had “already this year” urged the encrypted messenger, which is extensively used in Russia, to remove content that violates local laws or risk being removed from app stores.
He claimed that eliminating election-related bots was related to Russia’s election-day campaigning restriction.
Durov said late Friday, “We consider this procedure lawful and ask Telegram users to respect it.”
“Apple and Google restricting applications creates a dangerous precedent that will damage freedom of speech in Russia and around the world,” he added.
The election for seats in the lower house State Duma, which runs through Sunday, comes after President Vladimir Putin’s opponents were subjected to a massive crackdown earlier this year.
Navalny, who was held in January and has seen his allies arrested or fled the country, as well as his organizations being blacklisted, has tried to sever the Kremlin’s grip on parliament while incarcerated.
On Friday, his allies accused Apple and Google of “censorship,” while sources told AFP that the businesses had received both public and private threats from the Russian government, including serious criminal accusations and jail of local employees.
Following the removal of Telegram’s “Smart Voting” bot, Navalny’s Twitter account sent links to Google Docs with preferred candidates, claiming that these were their “final” “remaining” resources.