Forum Raises Serious Concerns on Ethiopia's Draft Law on Hate Speech

By Staff Reporter

Ethiopia-Hate-SpeechJanuary 1, 2020 (Ezega.com) -- A forum held in Addis Ababa has raised serious concerns on Ethiopia’s draft law on hate speech and dissemination of fake news, criticizing it for consisting articles with vague legal definitions and conflicting contents.

In a discussion held among stakeholders on Wednesday at the national parliament, the participants said the law will violate freedom of expression if enacted in the absence of adequate media platforms where people cannot entertain their ideas freely.

The participants, the majority of whom were journalists, claimed the draft law was not crafted in line with the country’s constitution and denies freedom of speech.

Some of the participants claimed that the federal attorney general which crafted the draft law is not mandated by law to formulate such legislation and what it is doing is unconstitutional.

How information could be labeled as fake; which body would check the facts; and the definition of hate speech itself were among the issues questioned by the participants who doubted the proper execution of the law.

According to the participants, the law did not clearly state as to which party would supervise the investigation and pass judgment in case of violation of the law.

Some of the participants doubted the necessity of the law as hate speech can be addressed by preventing conflicts and whereas others called for pending the law until after the forthcoming elections.

By enacting the law, the government wants to control social media outlets which it believed are recklessly being used to aggravate clashes between ethnic groups, as well as spreading insults against politicians and government officials.

The federal attorney general said the law is intended to ensure that freedom of expression should not be practiced at the expense of the dignity, security, and safety of other citizens.

The federal prosecutor Gedion Timotios said that hate speech and the dissemination of wrong information have been exacerbating ethnic clashes, through eroding the unity of the multi-ethnic nation, as well as abusing the ongoing democracy of the country.

Recently, Human Rights Watch said it is encouraging that Ethiopia’s government says hate speech must be addressed. But any law that limits freedom of expression by punishing hate speech must be narrowly drawn and enforced with restraint so that it only targets speech that is likely to incite imminent violence or discrimination that cannot be prevented through other means.

Many governments have tried and failed to strike the right balance. Ethiopia’s own track record offers reasons for alarm. In the past, the Ethiopian government has used vague legal definitions, including in its anti-terrorism law, to crack down on peaceful expressions of dissent, the report said.

In the past year, speeches by government officials, activists and others in Ethiopia have disseminated quickly through social media and helped trigger or fuel violent conflicts in the country.

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