Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny – one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent foes who nearly died last year of suspected poisoning by the state – called Twitter’s decision to ban President Donald Trump permanently on Saturday “an unacceptable act of censorship.”
Navalny, the leader of the opposition Progress Party and a longtime protest organizer calling for the end of Putin’s rule, compared Twitter’s censorship of Trump to Putin’s censorship of himself and noted that “cold-blooded murderers” like Putin and Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro continue to use the platform without restrictions.
After years of advocating for a democratic transition out of former KGB agent Putin’s over-two-decade-long rule, Navalny is now currently in Germany, recovering from what German doctors believe is deliberate exposure to Novichok. Novichok is a chemical weapon almost exclusively used by the Russian government. The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in Navalny’s illness, which put him in a coma for weeks in August.
“I think that the ban of Donald Trump on Twitter is an unacceptable act of censorship. Of course, during his time in the office, Trump has been writing and saying very irresponsible things,” Navalny contended. “And paid for it by not getting re-elected for a second term.”
“The election is a straightforward and competitive process. You can participate in it, you can appeal against the results, they’re being monitored by millions of people. The ban on Twitter is a decision of people we don’t know in accordance with a procedure we don’t know,” he continued, accusing Twitter of allowing “emotions and personal political preferences” decide how they run the site.
“I get death threats here every day for many years, and Twitter doesn’t ban anyone (not that I ask for it),” he noted, adding that, in addition to dictatorial governments themselves, sycophantic accounts (“troll factor[ies]”) abuse Twitter to promote murderous regimes.
7. Those who denied COVID-19 exist freely and communicate on Twitter. Their words have cost thousands of lives. And yet, it was Trump who got banned publicly and ostentatiously. Such selectivity indicates that this was an act of censorship.
— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) January 9, 2021
Navalny went on to note that, particularly in authoritarian societies, the lines between private companies and the government blur, so Twitter setting a precedent as a private company does not necessarily have no consequences for public censorship. Navalny explained:
Of course, Twitter is a private company, but we have seen many examples in Russian and China of such private companies becoming the state’s best friends and the enablers when it comes to censorship. If you replace ‘Trump’ with ‘Navalny’ in today’s discussion, you will get an 80% accurate Kremlin’s answer as to why my name can’t be mentioned on Russian TV and I shouldn’t be allowed to participate in any elections.
Navalny concluded lamenting that Russia and other “enemies of freedom of speech around the world” would exploit Trump’s ban to silence legitimate dissent and offering Twitter an alternative: “they need to create some sort of a committee that can make such decisions. We need to know the names of the members of this committee, understand how it works, how its members vote, and how we can appeal against their decisions.”
Twitter moved to eliminate Trump from the platform on a permanent basis after Trump supporters attacked the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. The attack, which resulted in at least five deaths, followed a speech Trump delivered at a rally in defense of his allegations of voter fraud in which he encouraged supporters to march to the Capitol. Trump told the crowd he would march there, as well, but he did not do so.
Amid the siege, Trump posted a video on Twitter in which he asked the rioters to “go home,” emphasizing, “we love you, you’re very special.” Twitter ultimately removed the video.
“After close review of recent Tweets from the @realDonaldTrump account and the context around them we have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter said in an organization statement on Friday. In addition to shutting down Trump’s account, Twitter has also silenced his digital director, Gary Coby, alleging that his account was attempting “ban evasion” by sharing messages from Trump.
Navalny has long been an advocate of free speech and democracy in his native Russia, and has repeatedly accused Putin of attempting to silence him. The incident this summer is the most severe case of suspected Russian government action against Navalny. The dissident fell severely ill in Siberia in August, prompting his team to immediately evacuate to Germany. In Germany, doctors concluded that Navalny, at that point in a coma, had been exposed to the Russian chemical agent Novichok.
“Attempts to somehow associate Russia with what happened are unacceptable to us, they are absurd,” Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said in September, when Navalny awoke from his coma. As Navalny is no longer in Russia, Moscow has frozen his assets.
In December, Navalny claimed that he had personally tricked a member of Russia’s FSB intelligence agency into telling him that the Putin regime had concocted a plot to poison his underwear. Navalny recorded the conversation between himself, masking his voice, and the alleged agent.
The Russian government initially claimed that Germany poisoned Navalny. A report in September claimed that Putin told French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that Navalny had poisoned himself. Putin made his first public remarks on the matter in December, saying that, if he wanted his agents to kill Navalny, “they would have finished it.”