Ethiopians React to Passing of Controversial ‘Hate Speech’ Law
Many are concerned that the new law is the government's attempt to suppress freedom of speech instead.
Yesterday, the Ethiopian government passed a law which will punish what it deems to be "hate speech" and "disinformation" with large fines and serious jail time, according to Aljazeera. The new law comes just before elections are set to take place this year in Ethiopia.
At least 300 members of parliament voted in favor of the new law which several civil rights groups have warned will undermine free speech in the East African country.
News24 reports that the newly passed law has described hate speech as "any discourse that incites prejudice against individuals and groups based on nationality, ethnic and religious affiliation, sex or disabilities". The penalties for disseminating hate speech include fines of up to USD 3100 and 2-year prison terms. However, in the event that hate speech or "disinformation" results in "an attack on individuals or groups", the jail term can be extended up to 5 years.
One legislator, Abebe Godebo, said that, "Ethiopia has become a victim of disinformation." Godebo adds that, "The country is a land of diversity and this bill will help to balance those diversities."
However, not everyone is convinced that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government has the right intentions.
Speaking to the Anadolu Agency, executive director of the Addis Ababa-based Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy, Befeqadu Hailu, said that, "The government has had other options to target hate speech and fake news. After all, it is the lack of access to government information that makes fake news surface. Hailu also added that, "Now that it has been passed, authorities should not be abusing it."
Back in 2018, the Human Rights Watch cautioned against the new law when it was first announced during the drafting stage. The organization instead suggested that the Ethiopian government consider an alternative strategy to curb hate speech and emphasized that it should be a strategy that "even a carefully drawn hate speech law should only be one small part of".
Ethiopians who also feel that their freedom of speech will now be under attack have decried the new law on social media. Take a look at some of their responses below.
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