Afghanistan orders suspension of WhatsApp, Telegram

Social media users and civil rights groups reacted with outrage to initial reports of Afghanistan’s move to block WhatsApp and Telegram. (Reuters)
Updated 05 November 2017

Afghanistan orders suspension of WhatsApp, Telegram

KABUL: Afghanistan has ordered the suspension of WhatsApp and Telegram to resolve “technical problems,” officials said Saturday, sparking outcry among social media users.
Facebook-owned WhatsApp and Telegram are popular messaging apps among smartphone-using Afghans — including Taliban and Daesh terrorists.
So far state-owned Salaam Network is the only Internet provider to obey the order, which applies from November 1 to November 20, telecommunications ministry spokesman Najib Nangyalay told AFP.
“We are testing a new technology and WhatsApp and Telegram will be temporarily blocked,” Nangyalay said.
“It is not a blow to the freedom of communication in Afghanistan — we have access to Facebook, Twitter. We are committed to the freedom of expression.”
Acting telecommunications minister Shahzad Aryobee said the move was in response to dissatisfaction with the services — something industry insiders rejected.
“In order to improve the services and solve the technical problems of these two programs the Ministry of Telecommunication and Information Technology is considering to introduce a new technology,” Aryobee said in a Facebook post on Friday.
Testing is “time-consuming” and required the temporary stoppage of WhatsApp and Telegram.
The move has ignited a firestorm on social media with users describing the move to block the messaging services as an assault on their right to free speech.
“Blocking WhatsApp and Telegram is the beginning of censorship by the Afghan government and bringing the virtual world under their control in Afghanistan. I think this is intolerable,” Facebook user Abdullah wrote.
Another user Mahdi Yasir said the quality of WhatsApp and Telegram “are great” and urged the government to focus on closing “factories producing Pakistani suicide bombers” instead.
“The two applications we were using the most are blocked. God damn this government,” Abdulraouf Sharifi posted.
A telecommunications official scoffed at the government’s claim to be developing a new technology.
“They are not going to match an international standard app,” he said.
“WhatsApp is very popular because it uses less data and the quality is very good.
“It could be security related (but) if they block it people can access VPNs,” he added, referring to virtual private networks.
Around eight million people, largely in Afghanistan’s major cities, can access the Internet, up from almost none during the Taliban’s repressive 1996-2001 regime. Most do so through mobile phones.
The Taliban frequently uses WhatsApp to post statements in Afghanistan while IS militants favor Telegram.

Turkey remains world’s worst offender against press freedom

Updated 13 December 2018

Turkey remains world’s worst offender against press freedom

  • A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work
  • The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa

Turkey remains the world’s worst offender against press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on Thursday, with at least 68 journalists imprisoned for anti-state charges.

Turkey has previously said its crackdown is justified because of an attempted coup to overthrow the government in 2016.

The report said that a near-record number of journalists around the world are behind bars for their work, including two Reuters reporters whose imprisonment in Myanmar has drawn international criticism.

There were 251 journalists jailed for doing their jobs as of Dec. 1, the CPJ said in an annual study. For the third consecutive year, more than half are in Turkey, China and Egypt, where authorities have accused reporters of anti-governmental activities.

“It looks like a trend now,” the report’s author, Elana Beiser, said in an interview. “It looks like the new normal.”

The number of journalists imprisoned on charges of “false news” rose to 28, up from 21 last year and nine in 2016, according to the CPJ, a U.S.-based nonprofit that promotes press freedom.

The report criticized U.S. President Donald Trump for frequently characterizing negative media coverage as “fake news,” a phrase that is also used by leaders against their critics in countries like the Philippines and Turkey.

In Egypt, at least 25 journalists are in prison. Authorities say this is to limit dissent are directed at militants trying to undermine the state.

Meanwhile, when asked about journalists being jailed, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said: “Legal measures are not taken because of these suspects’ or criminals’ professions. This is unrelated.”

The overall number of jailed journalists is down eight percent from last year’s record high of 272, the CPJ said.

The total does not take into account journalists who have disappeared or are being held by non-state actors. The CPJ said there are dozens of reporters missing or kidnapped in the Middle East and North Africa, including several held by Houthis in Yemen.

(With Reuters)