(CNSNews.com) – Angered by U.S. tech giants’ decision to remove a voting app promoting opposition candidates in last weekend’s Russian parliamentary elections, imprisoned Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny has accused them of turning into Vladimir Putin’s “accomplices.”
In a series of searing tweets, Navalny slammed Google and Apple for complying with Kremlin dictates, saying that in doing so Big Tech was acknowledging “the right of an authoritarian thief to subjugate the Internet, turning it into an instrument for seizure of power.”
“It’s one thing when the Internet monopolists are ruled by cute freedom-loving nerds with solid life principles,” he said. “It is completely different when the people in charge of them are both cowardly and greedy.”
“One of the modern challenges is that false prophets now come to us not in sheep’s clothing, but in hoodies and stretched jeans,” Navalny wrote. “Standing in front of the huge screens, they tell us about ‘making the world a better place,’ but on the inside they are liars and hypocrites.”
On the eve of the Sept. 17-19 parliamentary election, Google and Apple informed Navalny’s network that they were removing its “Smart Voting” app from their app stores, in line with Russian law.
The app identified candidates with the best chances of beating United Russia candidates in a given electoral district, and encouraged voters to support them – irrespective of political ideology or affiliation – in a bid to undercut support for the pro-Kremlin party.
The effectiveness of the tactical voting initiative was evident in Moscow city council elections in 2019 and regional elections the following year. But this year the authorities cracked down, with the state Internet regulator blocking Navalny-related sites and threatening to levy large fines against the tech companies unless they removed the app from their stores, App Store and Google Play.
Russian employees of the U.S. firms were warned they could be arrested, and the foreign ministry made clear that Google and Apple could only continue to operate in Russia if they comply with its laws.
In his Twitter thread, Navalny also criticized YouTube – which is owned by Google – and the Telegram messaging app for blocking a video and a bot promoting the Smart Voting initiative.
“These programs, which Putin calls ‘extremist,’ only contained information about opposition candidates in your constituency. By law and common sense, each of us has the right to campaign for voting (or not voting) for any candidate,” he said.
“In our case, the very intention to organize voters in order to put competitive pressure on the ruling party was declared criminal [by the authorities], and Big Tech agreed with this.”
Navalny said he knows that most employees of the tech companies are “are honest and good people. I urge them not to put up with the cowardice of their bosses.”
Queries sent to Google and Apple early this week about their recent actions in Russia remain unanswered.
Under the heading of “Ethics and compliance,” Apple says on its website that it “conducts business ethically, honestly, and in full compliance with the law.” It quotes Apple CEO Tim Cook as saying, “We do the right thing, even when it’s not easy.”
Navalny, Russia’s leading anti-corruption activist and outspoken Putin critic, is serving a 2.5 year prison term for violating parole when he left the country last year. He had been airlifted out of Russia after an assassination attempt for which he blames the Kremlin’s security services.
In the election that ended on Sunday, official results gave United Russia 49.8 percent of the vote for the 225 party list seats, and 198 of the 225 directly-elected seats in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament. There were widespread allegations from opposition parties of vote-rigging and fraud.
The Washington-based democracy watchdog Freedom House, which grades countries each year on political rights and civil liberties, ranks Russia under the Putin regime as “not free.”