The New York Times reported that Afghanistan is currently in the middle of a temporary ban on the WhatsApp application. Government letters to private telecommunications companies requesting them to suspend the messaging service started making the rounds on social media. And while some customers of Salaam Telecom, the government-owned communications company, reported that Telegram and WhatsApp had both stopped working for them, private companies are reportedly still contemplating on whether or not to comply with the request of the government.
While it seems to be only a 20-day test, the person or persons who called for it and the reason for the ban is up for debate as varying and somewhat contradictory information has been going around. The letters were sent by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. However, a source informed the New York Times that the ban was actually being pushed by the intelligence agency of Afghanistan, the National Directorate of Security. However, an official that is working with the agency stated that was not the case.
As for the reason why the temporary ban has been put into place, one of the leaders of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of the country informed the BBC that it was because of “security concerns.” However, shortly after that statement was delivered, the Ministry of Communications stated that it was done “to introduce a new kind of technology” after complaints of the service quality of WhatsApp.
Whatever the reason, the said move has some people concerned regarding the state of freedom of expression in the country. An executive director of the free speech activist group Nai, Abdul Mujeeb Khalvatgar, informed the New York Times, “It is wrong and illegal. According to the Constitution, freedom of expression is inviolable in Afghanistan. WhatsApp and Telegram are tools of free speech — if the government bans them, it means that tomorrow they could stand against media in Afghanistan too.”
Afghanistan is not the first country to go after WhatsApp and other similarly encrypted messaging services. Officials in both Brazil and China have sought to shut down the service in their countries while Russia has also made similar threats regarding Telegram in the past.