(New York, NY) — Google and Apple have removed from their stores a tactical voting app from imprisoned activist Alexei Navalny and his allies after coming under pressure from the Russian government for supposedly interfering in upcoming elections. PEN America’s Matt Bailey, director of the organization’s digital freedom program, said the following in response:

“Russian government officials are putting tech companies in a tightening vise, threatening criminal actions against individual employees inside the country to pressure their employers into yielding to calls for censorship. The decision on the part of Apple and Google to remove an app from the iOS and Android App Stores being used to organize protest against the government is the result of blackmail, pure and simple. As we recently outlined in a report, such blackmail is part of an alarming global trend by autocrats toward a hostage model of interacting with technology companies.

“In this case, it may also be fair to critique Apple and Google for creating the centralized technology infrastructure that makes this kind of censorship possible, and the Russian government isn’t blind to the repeated cases where the tech companies have folded—in Myanmar, Belarus, and repeatedly in Russia—failing to use their juggernaut status to protect their employees while also protecting free expression.

“But let’s not miss out on who the real oppressors are in this case. Vladimir Putin and his criminal-syndicate-like government have murdered dissenters, crushed an independent press, and embraced a model of authoritarian control over its citizens’ online and offline expression. These threats are becoming increasingly routine, and it’s time for the tech firms and global governments to stand up to this despotic bullying.”