The Afghanistan Telecoms Regulatory Authority (ATRA) has ordered a temporary ban on messaging services WhatsApp and Telegram, citing ‘technical problems’ and a need for greater oversight. News agency Gandhara quotes a spokesperson for the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology (MCIT) Sayed Najib Nangyal as saying that the block will only last 20 days (effective from 4 November) and will not affect other applications such as Facebook or Twitter. The move was widely criticised as a potential means of curtailing citizens’ rights, but Afghanistan’s acting telecom minister rejected the accusations, stating that the ATRA was, in fact, responding to complaints from customers about the functionality of the apps, adding: ‘The government is committed to freedom of expression.’
The popularity of social media services and messaging applications has risen sharply in recent years, as internet services – and 3G-based offerings in particular – have become increasingly affordable and accessible. As noted by TeleGeography’s GlobalComms Database, mobile data usage saw a surge in Afghanistan in H2 2016, with 3G subscriptions growing from 2.57 million in June 2016 to 4.67 million by the end of the year, and 5.70 million at the end of March 2017 (most recent official data).