Russia’s communications regulator Roskomnadzor blocked WeChat because the app maker failed to register with government authorities in accordance with the country’s legal requirements.
According to media reports the regulator also recently blocked other messengers including Line and BlackBerry, while in 2016 LinkedIn met a similar fate.
WeChat is hugely popular in China, where most of its 900 million monthly active users are based, and is owned by Chinese tech giant Tencent. While it does not have a large user base in Russia, the ban may impact Chinese tourists and Russians doing business with China, Reuters reported.
Tencent said in a statement it is “in discussions with relevant authorities regarding the situation” in Russia. WeChat was blacklisted on 4 May.
Vadim Ampelonskiy, a Roskomnadzor spokesman, said WeChat was blocked because it did not provide contact details for Russia’s register of “organisers of information distribution on the internet.”
While the reason cited for the block is a legal one, it also ties in with a report by a think tank called New America, which claims Russia began blocking certain websites after realising the internet helped fuel anti-government protests.
“Just a few years ago, Russians had a mostly free internet. Now, Russian authorities would like to imitate China’s model of internet control,” it said.
Ironically, WeChat itself faced scrutiny for censorship: in December it emerged the app censors messages containing certain key words related to some social issues and politics, even when users travel outside of the country.