Hate Speech Bill Could Threatens Free Expression, Says Rights Group

ADDIS ABEBA – Rights group says lawmakers should significantly revise the draft law on hate speech and disinformation currently before parliament.

Human Rights Watch said, if the bill that is currently in the hands of the lawmakers approved, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation could significantly curtail freedom of expression.

Since mid-2018, Ethiopia has experienced serious communal violence that may have been provoked or exacerbated by online speech that fomented ethnic tension and violence.

In late 2018, the government announced it was preparing a bill to tackle hate speech.

On November 9, 2019, following a wave of protests in Addis Ababa and in the Oromia region, that led to communal violence in a number of locations and the deaths of 86 people, the PM’s cabinet promptly approved the bill.

“The Ethiopian government is under increasing pressure to respond to rising communal violence that has at times been exacerbated by speeches and statements shared online,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. “But an ill-construed law that opens the door for law enforcement officials to violate rights to free expression is no solution.”

The use of hate speech laws around the world shows that authorities have often abused them for political purposes, Human Rights Watch said.

The government should instead adopt a comprehensive strategy to address incitement to violence, discrimination and hostility, and invoke non-punitive measures to address hate speech, Human Rights Watch said.

This should include regular public messaging from the prime minister and other public figures about the dangers of hate speech, programs to improve digital literacy, and efforts to encourage self-regulation within and between communities, it said.

Image Caption: A man scrolls down his cell phone for social media newsfeed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia October 11, 2019. [Photo REUTERS/Maheder Haileselassie]

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