Ethiopia’s parliament, the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HoPR), has passed a law aimed at combating fake news and curbing hate speech.
The passage comes three months after the cabinet led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, approved it and forwarded it to the house. It is known as the Hate Speech and Misinformation Law and was approved with a majority vote, 23 against and 2 abstentions.
Core planks of the new law include:
Prevent individuals from engaging in speech that incites violence, promote hatred and discrimination against a person or a group.
Promote tolerance, civil discourse and dialogue, mutual respect and understanding and strengthening democratic governance.
Control and suppress the dissemination and proliferation of hate speech, disinformation and other related false and misleading information.
Prohibits disseminating hate speech by means of broadcasting, print or social media using text, image, audio or video.
“It is deemed necessary to enact the law because the nation cannot address problems arising from hate speeches and fake news with existing laws,” a November 2019 statement issued from the council of ministers said.
Social media has been identified as one of the main avenues used to incite ethically tinged violence leading to deaths and displacements in East Africa’s most populous nation. The law also comes with months to keenly awaited elections.
The country is currently listed among global leaders in the area of internally displaced people. Ethiopia, as Africa’s second most populous nation, had a restrictive media space prior to April 2018 and the coming into office of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.
Sticking by his reform promise, Abiy released hundreds of political prisoners, jailed press men and opened up the media landscape. Under his watch, media outlets previously banned were allowed to return and operate in the country.
Social media has however been a blessing and headache for Abiy. His office has effectively used Twitter and Facebook to project work being done by government.
But the platform has also been blamed for the rise in the spread of fake news and the peddling of hate speech. As expected the new law continues to receive backlash from journalists and human rights activists especially.