ADDIS ABEBA- Local rights groups and civic organizations said the draft Hate Speech and Misinformation law, if ratified, could easily be abused just like anti-terror law.
They urged for the lawmakers to repeal the bill in a discussion held on Wednesday despite MPs push for the bill to be stringiest than it is last month.
The draft law was a subject of a public hearing called by the lower house of the parliament Legal, Justice and Democratic Affairs Standing Committee on Wednesday.
Several civic society unions and right groups used the platform to express their frustration regarding the bill, which the government hopes to use in its effort to address the growing hate speeches and dissemination of fake news deliberately.
Participant of Wednesday’s meeting said the new bill, which they claim is full of vague terms, would have the same impact as the infamous anti-terrorism law, which is also under parliament revision.
Rights group says the 2009 terrorism law’s broad definitions have been used indiscriminately against anyone who opposes government policy.
Bilen Asrat, executive director for Ethiopian civil society organization forum, said that unless government’s intention is to replace the anti-terror law with this one, “I can’t see the benefit of having this law”.
“It will affect the current democratic glimpse if we are going to let this bill enacted,” said Bilen.
Taye Belachew of Vision Ethiopia for Democracy said the law could have an equal impact as anti-terror law.
The draft bill will have an adverse effect on the changes the country has experienced since the prime minister Abiy Ahmed came to power. He said it is “unnecessary at all to have it at all”, Taye added.
Daniel Bekele (Ph.D.), Ethiopian Human Rights Commission commissioner, said the bill, if ratified as is, could easily be abused to suppress basic freedoms.
“We need to have more and thorough discussions on this draft document until we come to an agreement on the basic substances,” said Daniel.
Mesfin Gebeyehu from the Ombudsman office of Ethiopia has also criticized the manner in which the government is drafting laws and its intention.
“It is really controversial,” he said. “On one side, it is revising the anti-terror law, and, on the other side, lawmakers are dealing with the new hate Speech and Misinformation bill”.
Promise for More Debates
The representative of the Ombudsman office too and called for more discussions on the document before its ratification.
Deputy attorney general Gedion Timotiows, (Ph.D.) said more discussion could be held on the bill in the coming weeks. He has, however, shrugged off claims that it could lead to violation of basic freedoms.
When the bill first appeared to the house of parliament, several lawmakers have said some of the provisions in the bill lenient.
They called for the tough bill that could help the government tackle the grave consequences of hate speech and fake news on the wellbeing of society.
However, Human rights Watch last month said, even though the rising communal violence has at times been exacerbated by speeches and statements shared online, “ill-construed law” could “open the door for law enforcement officials to violate rights to free expression is no solution”.
Image Caption: A man scrolls down his cell phone for social media newsfeed in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia October 11, 2019. [Photo REUTERS/Maheder Haileselassie]