Gyanendra’s Law


Iran is considering a permanent ban on Telegram. To make it effective, they will probably have to go after VPNs too. Interestingly, a lot of the opposition seems to have an economic basis. Is this the basis of Gyanendra’s Law and its various exceptions? For the many small-business owners who use Telegram to market their services and communicate with clients, the ban adds to their financial woes.
We first wrote about the phenomenon back in 2006, in relation to the conflict areas in Sri Lanka and Kashmir. We started formulating the issues in terms of Gyanendra’s Law and its various exceptions around the time of the Arab Spring. I wrote the main piece on the subject, sitting in a hotel room in Teheran in February 2011. Since those days, the practice of shutting down networks has become more common, and more sophisticated. The Global Network Initiative has put out a one-pager on the subject: “GNI urges all governments to consult our one-page guide and to weigh carefully the human rights, economic and reputational harms that can flow from the decision to disrupt public access to vital communications services and platforms,” said GNI Executive Director, Judith Lichtenberg.
It’s interesting that Viet Nam’s Communist Party does not prohibit social media unlike its counterpart in China: In January Nguyen Tan Dung, Vietnam’s prime minister, told senior members of the Communist Party that it was “impossible” to block social media, and that the government should make more effort to put out “correct” information through them. Vietnam’s 40m internet-users live in one of the better-connected countries in South-East Asia. Around 45% of Vietnamese are online (roughly the same proportion as in China). In the region, only Malaysia and Singapore have higher penetration rates. The use of social media has leapt—by two-fifths in the past year alone, according to one estimate.
In a recent piece in Himal, I summarized the ideas I have been developing on the nation state and its control of telecom networks used by its citizens. The thesis was that in countries above a certain threshold of electronic connectivity, shutting down networks was futile. The regime would fall. Now here’s a new spin. A proposal to ease the pressure of the Qaddafi’s chokehold: As a result, democracy demonstrators have had a harder time communicating with one another, while foreign correspondents in Libya have found it nearly impossible to report on events fully.
The Secretary General of the International Telecommunication Union is elected every four years by governments who have paid their dues to the Union (or have had it paid on their behalf). This does not make him a natural advocate of anything revolutionary. Yet, this is what he says: There is no alternative, suggests the secretary general. “Once people have tasted the goodies of education and communication you can’t cut it off. If you cut it off you’re gone, and that’s what happened in Egypt,” says Touré.