YouTube removes Putin critic's ads prior to vote

Alexei Navalny's aide slams the removal as "political censorship." YouTube says it was following the rules.

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YouTube has taken down a Russian opposition politician's ads after an official request.

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YouTube removed ads from Russian opposition politician Alexei Navalny ahead of Sunday elections for regional governors, a move that prompted complaints of political censorship.

In the ads, Navalny called on Russians to use the day of the elections to protest a planned raising of the retirement age, the BBC reported.

YouTube, which is owned by search giant Google, removed the ads after Russia's Central Election Commission complained that they violated a law prohibiting political campaigning within 24 hours of an election, according to Reuters.

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"What Google did presents a clear case of political censorship," Leonid Volkov, a Navalny aide, wrote in a Facebook post. He noted that more than 40 video ad campaigns had been "switched off."

Volkov, who didn't immediately respond to a request for comment, said in the post that the protests Navalny called for had nothing to do with the elections. He pointed to YouTube's removal of the ads in regions that didn't have elections scheduled for Sunday.

The video-sharing site said in a statement that it has no political agenda but requires political ads to comply with local laws. That includes legally mandated "silence periods" around elections.

"We consider all valid requests from governmental bodies and require advertisers to comply with local law and our general advertising policies," a YouTube spokesperson said in the statement.

Polls suggest President Vladimir Putin's former chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin, Navalny's opponent in a 2013 election, will easily be re-elected as Moscow's mayor with 74 percent of the vote, according to TASS.

Navalny was jailed for 30 days on Aug. 25 on a separate protest-related charge, according to The Guardian. He said the jailing was designed to prevent him from leading Sunday's protests.

In February, the Russian government threatened to block YouTube and Instagram over a 25-minute video posted by Navalny. Instagram removed the video shortly afterwards.

First published at 4:46 a.m.
Updated at 9:03 a.m.: Adds YouTube comment.

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