KABUL – Afghanistan has ordered a temporary ban on the popular encrypted-messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram to resolve “technical problems”, officials said Saturday, sparking outcry among social media users.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Telegram are popular messaging apps among smartphone-using Afghans – including Taliban and Islamic State militants.
So far state-owned Salaam Network is the only internet provider to obey the order, which applies from November 1 to November 20, according to telecommunications ministry spokesman Najib Nangyalay.
“We are testing a new technology and WhatsApp and Telegram will be temporarily blocked,” Nangyalay said, adding that other apps – such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube – are not affected.
Journalists, media groups and users of social media have accused the government of censorship after the move. But government figure said the decision posed no threat to Afghans’ freedom of expression.
Earlier in the week officials at the body which regulates telecommunications in Afghanistan confirmed they had written to service providers to ask for a temporary, 20-day ban for security reasons.
But acting Telecommunications Minister Shahzad Aryobee also posted a message on Facebook saying the regulator had been asked to enforce a gradual block on messaging services to solve technical problems after several complaints.
Complaints about audibility and signal strength are common in Afghanistan.
The ban is yet to have been enforced.
Mobile services have rapidly expanded in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion of the country in 2001.
WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, have refused to comment.
Around eight million people, largely in Afghanistan’s major cities, can access the internet, up from almost none during the Taliban’s repressive 1996-2001 regime. Most do so through mobile phones.
The Taliban frequently uses WhatsApp to post statements in Afghanistan while IS militants favour Telegram.