Amid Outcry, Afghan Officials Rescind Temporary Ban on WhatsApp, Telegram

Afghanistan’s government has decided against blocking the instant messaging services of WhatsApp and Telegram in the face of widespread anger and sustained criticism of the controversial move from civil rights groups and users.

President Ashraf Ghani held a meeting Monday with Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah and “decided that there will be no ban on Whatsapp & Telegram in #Afghanistan,” Abdullah wrote on his official Twitter account Monday.

The Afghan telecoms regulator last week wrote a letter to internet service providers, instructing them to instantly block the services. Copies of the controversial letter also emerged in mainstream and on social media, prompting an outcry from activists.

Officials later confirmed the move, saying the services were being suspended for a period of 20 days at the request of state security institutions. Afghan media reported the decision was meant to stop the Taliban insurgency from using encrypted messages to circulate battlefield claims.

The telecoms regulator later explained the ban was temporary so as to allow experts to carry out necessary improvements in the wake of user complaints.

The ban on the two popular messaging services outraged Afghan activists and users, with some taking to social media to denounce it as an attack on freedom of expression.

A presidential statement later Monday said Afghanistan’s constitution guarantees freedom of speech and the unity government is committed to its constitutional responsibilities. In the statement, the government also promised to investigate circumstances that led to the dispute.

More than six million people have access to the internet in Afghanistan, which has been ravaged by years of conflict, underscoring the importance of internet and mobile services there.

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