Afghanistan has ordered to suspend Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Telegram messaging apps for 20 days to resolve technical problems, but industry insiders dismiss the excuse.
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, telecommunications ministry spokesman Najib Nangyalay told AFP.
“We are testing a new technology and WhatsApp and Telegram will be temporarily blocked,” Mr. Nangyalay said.
“It is not a blow to the freedom of communication in Afghanistan — we have access to Facebook, Twitter. We are committed to the freedom of expression.”
Acting telecommunications minister Shahzad Aryobee said the move was in response to dissatisfaction with the services — something industry insiders rejected.
“In order to improve the services and solve the technical problems of these two programmes the Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Technology is considering to introduce a new technology,” Mr. Aryobee said in a Facebook post on Friday. Testing is “time-consuming” and required the temporary stoppage of WhatsApp and Telegram.
The move has ignited a firestorm on social media with users describing the move to block the messaging services as an assault on their right to free speech.
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 ISIS militants favor Telegram.