HRW: Ethiopia hate speech law threatened freedom of expression

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Human Rights Watch (HRW) warns that a new draft law on hate speech in Ethiopia threatens freedom of expression in the country.

The controversial bill has raised concern among rights groups and political opposition over the vague definition of acts such as hate speech and disinformation. Similarly vague laws have been used in the past to target government critics and members of the press, most notably Ethiopia’s controversial terrorism laws that were used by the previous government to target anyone publishing content deemed to encourage public dissent.

Rights group sounds warning over Ethiopia hate speech law

“Ethiopian lawmakers should significantly revise the draft law on hate speech and disinformation currently before parliament,” Human Rights Watch stated on its own website on Friday. “If approved, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation could significantly curtail freedom of expression.”

Ethiopia is dealing with a rise in ethnic violence and online hate speech, which is proving to be the biggest test of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s first term in power.

HRW recognises the need to deal with the issue but senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch, Laetitia Bader, warns the “ill-constructed” law could be exploited by authorities, as similar laws have been int he past.

“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,” he said. “But an ill-construed law that opens the door for law enforcement officials to violate rights to free expression is no solution.”

Featured image: “Refugees in Ethiopia using social media” flickr photo by Overseas Development Institute https://flickr.com/photos/overseas-development-institute/33059506181 shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.