Moscow says Google and Apple are interfering in Russia’s upcoming parliamentary elections as the tech companies refuse to remove an app belonging to jailed blogger Alexei Navalny.
Russian communications watchdog Roskomnadzor said Thursday that Google and Apple could be held criminally liable if they keep on refusing to comply with the country's law.
“Criminal liability is foreseen for organizing as well as taking part in the work of extremist organizations banned in Russia,” the media watchdog said in a statement carried by Russian news agencies.
Last month, Roskomnadzor had demanded that the US tech companies remove Navalny's app from their stores, but up until now they have refused to do so ahead of the parliamentary elections scheduled to be held later this month.
Navalny claimed he was poisoned in Russia by the government last year, an accusation that Moscow rejected as baseless. He was immediately flown to Germany for alleged treatment. When the German government repeated the claim of poisoning, Russia offered to cooperate in an investigation and asked for a review of the relevant biomaterial, which Berlin then denied to grant.
The German government has not produced any evidence to this day.
Moscow, which continues to reject the allegation, says the case is made up and the West is exploiting it for political reasons and as a pretext to impose more sanctions against Russia.
Navalny later returned to Russia and was detained for violating the terms of a parole in an earlier financial corruption conviction. He constantly urges his followers to protest against the government, calling on Russian President Vladimir Putin to step down.
Earlier this year, the Russian government declared Navalny’s organizations as “extremist” and banned them across the Russian Federation.
Russia’s media regulator then blocked dozens of websites linked to Navalny, including his main website navalny.com.
Roskomnadzor addressed Google and Apple, stressing that failure to block the app “can be considered interference” in Russian elections and lead to heavy fines.
Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday the American tech companies’ ignoring of the requests by Russian authorities to delete “illegal content” had become “systemic.”
“Such arrogant, selective behavior and demonstrative disregard for multiple requests by authorized Russian structures regarding content recognized as extremist is becoming truly unacceptable,” Zakharova added at a press conference in Moscow.
Navalny, through a message from prison, has called on his supporters to download an app to vote out candidates from United Russia, the ruling political party, in the upcoming parliamentary elections.