An app created by allies of imprisoned Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny disappeared from Apple and Google stores on Friday as polls opened across Russia for three days of voting in a parliamentary election, reported AP. It comes as Russian authorities seek to suppress the use of Smart Voting, a project designed by Navalny to promote candidates that are most likely to defeat those backed by the Kremlin.
This weekend’s election is widely seen as an important part of President Vladimir Putin’s efforts to cement his grip on power ahead of the 2014 presidential election, for which control of the parliament is key. “Removing the Navalny app from stores is a shameful act of political censorship,” top Navalny ally Ivan Zhdanov said on Twitter. The app promoted an initiative that outlines for Navalny supporters which candidate they should back to unseat Kremlin-aligned politicians. Apple and Google have come under pressure in recent weeks, with Russian officials urging them to remove the app, which features Smart Voting, saying failure to do so will be interpreted as interference in the election and threatening them with fines. Exiled Navalny ally Leonid Volkov said the companies had “caved in to the Kremlin’s blackmail.” “We have the whole of the Russian state against us and even big tech companies,” Navalny’s team said on Telegram.
In a message from prison, Navalny had urged supporters to download the app that aims to help Russians to vote out candidates from the ruling United Russia party in the upcoming polls. On the eve of the vote his team urged Russian voters to back Communist Party candidates. Navalny — who was detained in January — has this year seen his organisations declared “extremist” and banned, while all his top aides have fled.