Google-owned video-streaming platform YouTube yesterday temporarily blocked a video uploaded by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny during which he called on voters to boycott the country’s upcoming election.
The seven-minute clip, complete with English subtitles, mysteriously disappeared from YouTube for around an hour on Thursday, before reappearing without explanation.
Taking to his personal blog, Navalny claimed the video had been taken down because it was accompanied by “unlawful hashtags”.
He claimed the short film was unblocked after members of his team removed words such as “elections”, “boycott” and “rally” from its description.
After approaching YouTube to demand an explanation as to why his content had been restricted, Navalny posted a screenshot of an email a member of his team received from the company, in which it apologised for blocking the video, insisting this had been done inadvertently.
On Twitter, Navalny told his 2.2 million followers that while his video had been unblocked, “the Kremlin’s plan was a success”, suggesting that the Russian government may have pressured YouTube to take the clip down in an effort to prevent it from trending.
Navalny, an anti-corruption activist who has led mass demonstrations against the rule of Vladimir Putin since the country’s last election in 2012, has announced a series of further rallies across the country on 28 January to call for a boycott of the 2018 presidential poll, the first round of which is due to take place on 18 March.
Addressing the camera during his now-unblocked YouTube clip, Navalny tells viewers that their income and quality of life will stagnate or fall if Putin manages to secure another six-year term.
He says that six more years of Putin rule would see Russia “sink further down the bog” as the rest of the world continues to move forward.
Calling for new anti-corruption protests ahead of the first presidential election round, Navalny tells his supporters to demonstrate peacefully, urging them to fight for their country or surrender it to “worthless crooks”.
Responding to the contents of the video, Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said any attempt to boycott the election would likely not influence the turnout, adding that Navalny’s comments should be investigated to ensure they were in accordance with Russian law.
Days before Navalny’s video was temporarily blocked by YouTube, thousands of his supporters gathered in cities across the country calling for his name to be added to the March ballot.
Many Russians see the lawyer-turned-political activist as the only potential candidate who would stand any chance of defeating Putin in the upcoming poll.
In June of last year, Russia’s electoral commission ruled that Navalny is not eligible to run in this year’s election due to a past corruption conviction, charges he claims were politically motivated.