Access to VOA and RFE/RL websites restricted in Afghanistan

February 15, 2023

Kabul – Two months after the banning of the U.S funded broadcasters Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty in Afghanistan, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [Taliban] has restricted the websites of both outlets as well.

The websites affected are VOA's Pashto and Dari and the websites for Azadi Radio which are inaccessible on three of Afghanistan’s privately owned telecommunications providers—Afghan Wireless, Roshan, and Etisalat Afghanistan—but were still accessible via Wi-Fi, or on the Salaam state internet provider, as well as when accessed via virtual private networks or VPNs, according to a report by VOA, a statement by RFE/RL.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan-controlled Afghanistan Telecom Regulatory Authority(ATRA) directed telecommunication providers to block access to the website of Radio Azadi, the Afghan branch of RFE/RL, on orders by Taliban officials, Radio Azadi head Qadir Habib told Amu TV, citing sources within the regulator.

The director of the Persian section of VOA Ahmad Sir Zia confirmed that the authorities on February 11 closed the Pashto and Dari websites of the media outlet as well.

A statement released on the Twitter feed of VOA's Acting Director Yolanda Lopez said the blocking of the network's websites "was not unexpected." "We have prepared for it [and] our audience in Afghanistan has been using VOA-promoted tools to circumvent the blocking," the statement said.

A spokesperson for the Islamic Emirate did not respond to AFJCs requests for comment.

The VOA and RFE/RL are also transmitting via medium and shortwave radio after the Taliban in late 2022 blocked their FM broadcasts.

AFJC said:” Restricting access to these two media platforms in Afghanistan by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan [Taliban] is obviously another sign of continued suppression of free and critical media and they must cease censoring news outlets in Afghanistan and restore unfettered access to the websites of the broadcasters.” “We urge the authorities to reverse their decision and lift all restrictions on access to online news media inside Afghanistan and cease their relentless campaign of media censorship.”