Lawmakers Unhappy with Lenient Hate Speech & Misinformation Bill

ADDIS- ABEBA – Ethiopian lawmakers have started to debate on a bill government hopes to use to deter hate and misinformation in the country.

The draft law, officials said, will be used to address the growing problems related to hate speeches and fake news, and to suppress the deliberate dissemination of hate speech.

At least 305 legislatures were attended Tuesday’s session that deliberate on ‘hate speech and disinformation prevention and suppression’ bill.

The bill presented by deputy government whip, Chane Shimeka, prohibits disseminating hate speech and disseminating disinformation by means of broadcasting, the print or social media, using text, and image, audio or video messages.

But, the draft law also says a speech will not be considered a crime if it’s part of an academic study, or scientific inquiry, news report analysis or political critique, artistic creativity, performance and religious teaching.

Under this law, if a person commits an act of disseminating hate speech, he/she could be sentenced up to three years or fined up to 100,000 birr.

If a person engaged in the dissemination of disinformation, he/she will be punished up to a year or fined up to 50,000 birr.

Disseminating disinformation or committing hate speech in a social media account that has over 5,000 followers could also be punishable by up to three years imprisonment or fine not exceeding 100,000 birr, according to the bill.

‘Unhappy MPs’

A handful of MPs said the punishments are lenient and insisted on the insertion of more firm and strict articles in the draft law.

They said disinformation and hate speeches in recent times are resulting in grave impacts on the wellbeing of society as well as the lives of innocent citizens.

“There are individuals who don’t have a financial problem and incite problems. Making them pay 100,000 birr is nothing for them,” said MP Jember Asmamaw, while expressing his concern about the softness of the law.

“It is better to form a more institutionalized system and create strict controlling mechanisms,” he said.

Another MP also expressed his frustration over the bill which does not ban making hate speech or disinformation in public gatherings explicitly.

He also urged for the punishment stated in the bill to increase.

“They are making a profit out this and punishing them a 100,000 birr is a joke,” he said. “They can get more than this from a single sponsor”.

The MP said the committee that is going to look into this bill has to see the matter in detail.

Most of the MPs spoke during Tuesday’s session gave their support to the bill while some expressed their concern regarding some provisions that may violate the constitutional rights freedom of expression.

In the end, the MPs sent the bill to a respective standing committee of the parliament for further discussion.

By Sisay Sahlu