The Russian government still has a strong influence on Telegram despite lifting a ban last year as the encrypted messaging app has temporarily blocked all of the Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s chatbots during voting in the country’s parliamentary election this weekend.
Company founder Pavel Durov said that Telegram would obey an election law barring campaigning during elections, calling the law “legitimate”, reports Engadget. The move comes despite the nature of the bots and Durov’s past statements.
One of the bots, Smart Voting, was only meant to identify candidates that could unseat the dominant United Russia party, not just Navalny’s Russia of the Future Party. Durov also decried tech giants Apple and Google for removing the Smart Voting mobile app from their respective app stores, calling it a “dangerous precedent” that tolerated censorship.
The country under President Vladimir Putin has routinely cracked down on any political dissent, including actions against Navalny himself (such as an attempted assassination linked to Russian agents) and a long-running effort to quash the broader Smart Voting effort, the report said.
Officials both threatened Apple and Google with fines and have gone so far as to try and throttle internet infrastructure providing access to Smart Voting, it added.
Russians vote on Sunday in the final stretch of a three-day parliamentary election that the ruling party is expected to win after a sweeping crackdown that crushed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny’s movement and barred opponents from the ballot.
The expected win by the ruling United Russia party will be used by the Kremlin as proof of support for President Vladimir Putin despite malaise over years of faltering living standards.
The party that backs Russia’s 68-year-old leader faces a ratings slump, state pollsters say, but remains more popular than its closest rivals on the ballot, the Communist Party and nationalist LDPR party, which often back the Kremlin.
United Russia holds nearly three-quarters of the State Duma’s 450 seats. That dominance last year helped the Kremlin pass constitutional reforms that allow Putin to run for two more terms as president after 2024, potentially staying in power until 2036.