New Delhi: Google Play Store and Apple App Store have removed the tactical voting app of President Vladimir Putin’s jailed critic Alexei Navalny as Russian elections got underway Friday, media reports said, quoting the latter’s team.
Russia had earlier this month accused the US tech firms of meddling in its internal affairs and demanded that Apple and Google remove the ‘Smart Voting’ app from their stores.
Russia is holding a three-day election to elect a new parliament.
The ruling United Russia party will most likely win the polls despite a ratings slump as the country saw a massive crackdown on Kremlin’s critics, Reuters reported.
Navalny, who has been in jail since February this year, is known to be the fiercest and most troublesome Kremlin critic, and his allies reportedly planned to use the app to organise a “tactical voting campaign” against United Russia. The app aimed to help Russians to vote out candidates, according to AFP.
While Google and Apple did not comment, a Navalny ally who is based abroad told Reuters that the removal of the app amounted to political censorship.
Quoting a person with direct knowledge of the matter, an AP report said Google faced threats of criminal prosecution in Russia if it did not remove the app. The person also said Russian police paid visits to Google’s offices in Moscow earlier this week “to enforce a court order to block the app”.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the app was “outside the law” in Russia, and that the authorities “definitely, of course” welcome the decision to remove the app.
Navalny in jail since February
Navalny, 44, returned to Russia around five months after a chemical nerve-agent attack in August 2020 that almost killed him.
He was on a flight from Tomsk to Moscow when he fell sick and his plane had to make an emergency landing in Omsk. He was seen drinking tea at Tomsk airport before boarding the flight, and his team suspected that a poisonous substance was put in his tea. His condition had forced a dramatic air evacuation to Germany where he was treated at Berlin’s Charité hospital.
Navalny has accused Putin of ordering the poisoning with Novichock nerve agent, which the Kremlin denies.
After his return to Russia, the activist was put under arrest on old charges of embezzlement.