MOSCOW, Sept 18 (Reuters) - Jailed Kremlin critic Alexei
Navalny's allies accused YouTube and Telegram of censorship on
Saturday after the video platform and messaging app restricted
access to their anti-government voting recommendations for
Russia's parliamentary election.
Navalny's allies already accused Alphabet's Google
and Apple of buckling under Kremlin pressure on Friday after the
companies removed an app from their stores that the activists
had hoped to use against the ruling party at the election.
Voting began on Friday and runs until late on Sunday.
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, who has carved out a
libertarian image and resisted past censorship, 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 and is similar to bans in many other countries.
Navalny's spokeswoman 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.
Late on Saturday, Navalny's camp said YouTube had also taken
down one of their videos that contained the names of 225
candidates they had endorsed.
"The video presentation of the smart voting recommendations
for the constituencies with the nastiest (United Russia
candidates) has also been removed," they wrote.
Navalny's camp said it was not a knockout blow as their
voting recommendations were available elsewhere on social media.
But it is seen as a possible milestone in Russia's crackdown
on the internet and its standoff with U.S. tech firms.
Russia has for years sought sovereignty over its part of the
internet, where anti-Kremlin politicians have followings and
media critical of Putin operate.
Navalny's team uses Google's YouTube widely to air
anti-corruption videos and to stream coverage and commentary of
anti-Kremlin protests they have staged.
The ruling United Russia Party is 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 U.S. company had in turn asked
Navalny's team to take them down.
Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In his statement, Durov said Google and Apple's restrictions
of the Navalny app had set a dangerous precedent and meant
Telegram, which is widely used in Russia, was more vulnerable to
He said Telegram depends on Apple and Google to operate
because of their dominant position in the mobile operating
system market and his platform would not have been able to
resist a Russian ban from 2018 to 2020 without them.
Russia tried to block Telegram in April 2018 but lifted the
ban more than two years later after ostensibly failing to block
"The app block by Apple and Google creates a dangerous
precedent that will affect freedom of expression in Russia and
the whole world," Durov said in a post on Telegram.
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Additional reporting by Anton
Zverev and Alexander Marrow; Editing by David Clarke)