Ethiopia’s Hate Speech and Disinformation Law: The Pros, the Cons, and a Mystery
By Berhan Taye |
The change in government in Ethiopia has garnered people unprecedented civil and political liberties. In previous years, when the press and broadcast media were censored, social media gave Ethiopians, like many around the world, the autonomy to speak, organize, mobilize, and challenge the government’s narrative. However, amidst all of these changes, one thing has remained the same: authorities are still challenging the relative “freedom” social media platforms have enabled. While the previous government surveilled, blocked, and punished dissenting voices online, the current administration under Prime Minister Abiy has enacted the Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation which grants the government authority to fine and imprison citizens for their social media activity.
The flourishing of hate speech and disinformation online can disrupt democratic debate and practices, facilitate gross human rights violations, and further marginalize minority groups. Ethiopia, even with one of the lowest internet connectivity penetration rates in the continent, is not immune to this phenomenon. Accordingly, the rationale behind this legislation is that harmful speech and disinformation online “pose[s]” a threat to “social harmony, public stability, national unity, human dignity…” in the country. Yet despite this articulation of a legitimate aim, the Proclamation may do little to address these societal problems, instead serving to restrict freedom of expression, curtail access to information, stifle the press, and silence dissenting voices.
This article was first published by the AccessNow on May 19, 2020.