The Afghanistan government has reportedly attempted to block popular messaging apps WhatsApp and Telegram.
Recent reports have confirmed that Afghanistan’s telecom communications regulatory agency has been attempting to block popular messaging platforms, such as WhatsApp and Telegram since last week.
According to Reuters, the agency has sent instructions via letters to the country’s internet service providers that demanded that certain messaging services be shut down. However, as of yet, all targeted platforms are still functioning optimally within the country, indicating a failure on the part of the agency.
While there have been isolated incidents of users complaining of WhatsApp being inaccessible, it is still unclear whether this is due to the government’s efforts or general issues by the app.
Social media and messaging platforms are hugely popular in Afghanistan, as they are in most countries. All platforms are widely used by the general public. However, images of the agency’s letter quickly started to circulate on social media, which has caused outrage, both from citizens as well as civil rights activists and groups.
Since the letter started circulating, the minister for telecommunications, Shahzad Aryobee, took to Facebook to explain that the ATRA was currently engaged in upgrading their service, which required blocking the two specific messaging apps, as users have launched complaints about their efficiency. Aryobee concluded by stating that the Afghanistan government remains committed to their people’s basic civil right to freedom of speech.
According to the Voice of America, the ATRA released yet another statement last Friday, which stated that the block was necessary in order to allow the ATRA to test and install a so-called new technology which has been created to address Afghanistan users’ complaints regarding the two apps. However, since then there have been unconfirmed reports which suggested that the National Directorate for Security might be to blame and that the blocks were an attempt to minimize the Taliban and other insurgent groups’ access to encrypted messaging.
The mobile phone sector has been wildly popular in Afghanistan ever since the US invasion of 2001. However, despite their popularity, users have often complained of unreliable service providers and signal. Currently, over 6 million Afghanistan citizens have access to the Internet, although these are mostly located in the country’s larger cities. Several politicians of the country have also admitted to using messaging apps such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Viber, and Telegram.
However, many have noted that several messaging apps’ encryption features, such as WhatsApp and Telegram, make it increasingly easier for the Taliban to coordinate their network.
According to Parwiz Kawa, a prominent newspaper editor within the country, Afghanistan will not tolerate the backward action of blocking messaging apps so shortly after progressing to the open society that they are today. Kawa stated that the Afghani people and his newspaper will revolt against any violation against their freedom of speech and imposed censorship.
Despite the block’s inefficiency so far, a spokesperson for the Taliban was reported last week to give reporters his Viber contact number, in the event that WhatsApp would be down.