Social media was identified as one of the main avenues used to incite ethnic violence
ADDIS ABABA: Ethiopia’s parliament, the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HoPR), has passed a law aimed at combating fake news and curbing hate speech with hefty fines and long jail terms.
The new law permits fines of up to $3,000 (KSh 314, 000) and imprisonment for up to five years for anyone who shares or creates social media posts that are deemed to result in violence or disturbance of public order. If the hate speech or fake news is disseminated by a social media page with over 5,000 followers or broadcast and print media outlets, the penalty shall be up to three years of prison term.
Almost 300 legislators voted in favour of the bill on Thursday, February 13, with 23 votes against and two abstentions
Critics says it violates a constitutional guarantee of free speech, adding that it could be used to suppress dissent ahead of a general election later this year. Article 29/6 of the Ethiopian Constitution stipulates the greater need to protect people’s safety as well as national security. This should be done by providing legal frameworks that control disinformation, yet without affecting people’s freedom of speech and opinion.
But the authorities insisted that the law was necessary to deal with a surge in violence recently witnessed across the country. A significant portion of these displacements are conflict-induced, largely related to ethnic and border-based disputes. Many also often blamed social media platforms for creating a conducive environment for individuals and groups that distribute hate speech and fake news, eventually triggering violence.
According to a report by Africa News, social media was identified as one of the main avenues used to incite ethnic violence leading to deaths and displacements in the country.
The new law defines hate speech as rhetoric that fuels discrimination against individuals or groups based on their nationality, ethnic and religious affiliation, sex or disabilities. The law, however, says dissemination does not include liking or tagging such content on social media.
“Ethiopia has become a victim of disinformation. The country is a land of diversity and this bill will help to balance those diversities,” legislator Abebe Godebo said.
Ethiopia, for decades one of the most tightly controlled states in Africa, has undergone huge political change since reformist Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office two years ago.