Ethiopia passes hate speech, disinformation legislation

Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation got approval as majority in Ethiopian parliament supported it. Critics see it as a threat to free speech ahead of national election

Ethoipia _ hate speech _ legislation

February 13, 202

Ethiopia’s House of Peoples representative approved on Thursday draft legislation on hate speech and disinformation.

The Parliament was called from a one-month recess this week.

About 300 members of Parliament attended the session that approved the legislation. Twenty-three members of the Parliament opposed the bill, and there were two abstain voices – according to state media Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation (EBC).

The discussion in the Parliament highlighted that “Good values and relationship between Ethiopians are being eroded because of hate-speech and dissemination of false information. Hate-speech and disinformation are also posing a threat to the country.”

A considerable number of parliamentarians seem to believe that the newly minted legislation could help prevent hate-speech and related problems as no other existing laws of the land are protecting Ethiopians from the negative impacts of hate-speech.

Member of Parliament Abebe Godebo said: “Ethiopia has become a victim of disinformation,…the country is a land of diversity, and this bill will help to balance those diversities,” as quoted in Aljazeera report on Thursday.

Those who oppose the legislation expressed concern that freedom of expression, free speech, and the free press could be at risk. Some activists and politicians argue that the bill is introduced ahead of the upcoming national election as a tool to silence dissent.  

In December 2019, Human Rights Watch expressed concern saying that the “Bill Threatens Free Expression” and called upon parliamentarians to revise draft legislation.

In late October 2019, Ethiopia experienced widespread violence in the Oromo region after a prominent radical Oromo ethnic nationalist, Jawar Mohammed,  shared a Facebook update claiming that he has concern for his security. He wrote his message after the government tried to remove his security details from his residence in Addis Ababa in the middle of the night. Ethiopian government admitted that 86 people ( including police officers) were killed in connection to the violence.

The incident gave ground for the government to come up with a legal response to speeches that stir violence. And the legislation was drafted. Laetitia Bader, a senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch,  criticized the draft legislation in December 2019. She called it “…an ill-construed law that opens the door for law enforcement officials to violate rights to free expression is no solution.”

The new legislation punishes hate-speech and disinformation with jail terms and fines. Violators of the bill could face up to five years in jail or 100,000 Ethiopian birr, which is a little over $US 3000.

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