The Afghan government said it will not block WhatsApp and Telegram as previously thought, while Indonesia also ditched a move to block the former if it did not remove certain images it deemed obscene.
A letter circulated online from Afghanistan’s telecoms regulator to internet service providers telling them to block the messaging services “without delay” faced a backlash from civil rights groups.
Afghanistan’s acting telecom minister Shahzad Aryobee said “it is essential” to suspend the apps temporarily to test systems and improve their performance, but explained in a Facebook post the government remained committed “to freedom of speech” which it regards as “a basic civil right for our people”.
Some reports claimed the move was ordered by the National Directorate for Security to crack down on the use of encrypted messaging by insurgent groups including the Taliban.
However, Javid Faisal, deputy spokesman to government chief executive Abdullah Abdullah, later wrote on Twitter the apps would continue to operate in the country.
Government of #Afghanistan isn’t going to ban any social media platforms. Whatsapp and Telegram to continue operating in Afghanistan.
— Javid Faisal (@Javidfaisal) November 6, 2017
Semuel Pangerapan, a director general at Indonesia’s Communications and Informatics Ministry, had said WhatsApp would be blocked unless “obscene” graphics interchange format (GIF) images supplied by third parties were removed, Reuters reported. The ministry sent three letters to WhatsApp over the issue.
Later, he said: “We see now that they have done what we asked. Therefore, we won’t block them because they have responded to us.”
It is unclear what WhatsApp did because it said its messages are encrypted which means it can’t monitor third-party providers. The company reportedly asked the government to work with those providers instead.
Tenor, one of the GIF providers used in the country, said it had “implemented a fix for the content issues” and iOS users reportedly could not access Tenor GIFs.
The Indonesian Consumers Foundation reportedly asked the Communications and Informatics Ministry to block pornographic GIF images because they are easily accessible by children.
However, the government’s move appears to be part of a wider censorship strategy. Although it dropped the WhatsApp threat the government said it will ask executives of messaging services and search engines, including Google, to remove obscene content.
In August 2017, the Indonesian government decided not to ban Telegram, after threatening to do so unless the app maker blocked unlawful content, particularly radical and terrorist propaganda.