Afghan govt won’t ban WhatsApp and Telegram after all

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

KABUL (Reuters) – The Afghan government will not block the instant messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram, a spokesman said on Monday, following days of controversy after reports the services would be suspended.

“Government of Afghanistan isn’t going to ban any social media platforms. WhatsApp and Telegram to continue operating in Afghanistan,” Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman to government chief executive Abdullah Abdullah wrote on Twitter.

The row over instant messaging services began after a letter from Afghanistan’s telecoms regulator to Internet service providers telling them to block the services “without delay” was circulated on social media platforms last week.

WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, has more than a billion users worldwide. Telegram is a much smaller but fast growing instant messaging service that is popular in a number of countries including Afghanistan.

The acting minister for telecommunications said last week that the telecoms regulator had been ordered to put a gradual block on the services to improve their functioning after complaints had been received from consumers.

Afghan media have reported that Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security (NDS) wanted the ban to stop the Taliban and other insurgent groups from using encrypted messages. The NDS has not commented.

Throughout the controversy, the messaging platforms appeared to have continued to function normally in Afghanistan.

The episode, which attracted criticism from civil rights groups and furious comments on social media, underlined the importance Internet and mobile services of all kinds have gained in Afghanistan, notably among government officials themselves.

(Reporting by James Mackenzie; Editing by Peter Graff)

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