By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — The Afghan government has decided not to block the instant messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram after having ordered a temporary ban on the popular services last week.
Afghan Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah announced the change on November 6 on Twitter, saying he had met with President Ashraf Ghani and the two had decided against a permanent ban.
The two mobile apps are popular among smart-phone users in Afghanistan — including Taliban militants.
The temporary ban had triggered a wave of criticism on social media, where app users and civil rights groups assailed it as an attack on free speech.
Sayed Najib Nangyal, a spokesman for the Afghan Communications and Information Technology Ministry, told RFE/RL on November 4 that the temporary ban was ordered to address “some technical problems and for better supervision” of the services.
At that time, Nangyal said the ban would last for 20 days and it would not extend to Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or other popular social networks.
Some media reports cited unidentified sources as saying the ban was aimed at thwarting the use of encrypted messaging by Taliban militants and other extremist groups on WhatsApp and Telegram.
But the outcry over the temporary ban later prompted Afghanistan’s acting minister for telecommunications, Shahzad Aryobee, to declare on Facebook that “the government is committed to freedom of expression.”
Users reported that WhatsApp and Telegram appeared to continue to function normally last week despite the government’s temporary ban.
The episode highlights the importance Internet and mobile services of all kinds have gained in Afghanistan, including among government officials themselves.