Navalny App removed by online stores while Russian polling stations open

MOSCOW (AP) — An app made by allies of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny disappeared from Apple and Google stores on Friday when the polling stations in all of Russia opened up for three days of vote in a parliamentary election.

Russian authorities are trying to use of Smart voting, a project designed by Navalny to promote candidates die most likely to beat those die be supported by the Kremlin. This weekend’s election is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to tighten his grip on power forward of the 2024 presidential election, in which control? of parliament will be key.

Apple and Google have come under pressure in recent weeks, with Russian officials urge them to remove the app, which features Smart voices, saying: failure to do so will be interpreted as interference in the elections and threaten them? with Fines.

Last week, the Russian Foreign Ministry summoned US Ambassador John Sullivan. with him over the issue.

On Thursday, representatives of Apple and Google are invited to a meeting in The upper house of Russia parliamentthe Federation Council. The Committee of the Council on protecting state sovereignty said: in a statement after the meeting that Apple agreed to work together with Russian authorities.

Apple and Google have not responded to The AP’s request for comment.

Google was forced to remove the app because it faced Regulatory requirements and threats of criminal persecution in Russia, according to one person with direct knowledge of the matter who also said Russian police officers visited Google’s offices in Moscow on Monday to enforce a court order to block the app. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on Friday that the presidential government is “certainly, of course” welcomes the companies decision to uninstall the app as it comes in compliance with Russian laws. Peskov said the app “outside the law” in Russia.

In recent months, the authorities have unleashed a sweeping repression against Navalny’s Allies and Fiance in a huge effort to suppress smart voices.

Since Navalny 2½- servesyear prison sentence for violating parole over a previous conviction says politically motivated, his closest allies were beaten with criminal cost. many have left the country. Navalny’s Foundation for Fighting corruption, as well as a network of regional offices, are banned as extremist organizations in a statement die Hundreds uncovered of people associated with the groups to persecution.

About 50 websites die to be team ran are blocked, and dozens of regional offices are closed. Authorities have moved to block smart voting website also, but some internet users can still access the. Navalny’s team has also created a Smart Voting chatbot on the messaging app Telegram and published a list of Candidates Endorses Smart Voting in Google Docs and on youtube.

western tech giants, such as Twitter, Facebook and Google, this year to have also come under pressure from the Russian government over their role in amplify disagreement. The authorities accused the platforms of reportedly not to delete calls for protests and heavy fines imposed against them.

The companies face comparable challenges around the world. In India, the government is in a deadlock with Twitter, die it accuses of not comply with new internet rules die digital activists say they can curtail online speech and privacy.

Turkey has passed a law last year that aroused fears of censorship, which makes authorities bigger power regularize social media businesses die goods also required to set up local legal entities — a demand for which Facebook and Twitter have bowed.

Twitter has been banned in Nigeria since June, when the company took down a controversial tweet from the country’s president, although the government has promised it will be lifted soon.

Navalny’s close ally Ivan Zhdanov on Tweeted a screenshot on Friday of what looks like an email from Apple explaining why the app should to be removed of the store. The screenshot cites the term extremism for the foundation for Fighting corruption and accusations of interference in the elections. “Google, Apple make a big mistake’ wrote Zhdanov.

Leonid Volkov, Navalny’s top strategist, wrote: on Facebook that the companies “boast the blackmail of the Kremlin”. He noted that the move does not affect users who to have already downloaded the app, and that it should function correctly.

Volkov told the AP last month that at some point in at the end of August the app was in 3rd place on Google Play in Russia under social networking apps and 4th on the App Store in the same category.

Peskov on Friday called Smart Voting “a new attempt at provocations die be harmful” for the voters.”

While the vote started in Russia on Friday morning, long lines and big crowds formed at some polling stations in Moscow and other cities. Russian media attributed them to state institutions and corporations die forced their employees to vote.

Peskov rejected the allegations, suggesting that those die in queued at the polling stations came there voluntarily because they had to work on the weekend of wanted liberate up” Saturday and Sunday.

dr. Anna Trushina, a radiologist in a hospital in Moscow, told the AP she had come to a polling station in central Moscow “to be honest, because we were forced (to come and vote) at my work. Honestly.”

They added: “And I also want until know who leads us.”

____

Chan reported from London. Vladimir Kondrashov in Moscow also reporting contributed.

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