The Ethiopian House of Peoples Representative (HoPR), the lower house of the Ethiopian parliament, on Thursday ratified a new law that criminalized hate speech and disinformation.
The newly approved regulation, which described hate speech as a speech that targets inflicting hate, discrimination or attack against individuals or groups based on their nationality, ethnic and religious affiliation, sex or disabilities, was ratified with the majority vote, in which only 23 members of the parliament voting against the draft bill while two also abstained.
According to the draft bill that was presented to the HoPR for ratification, the move to criminalize hate speech and disinformation was made in line with the Ethiopian constitution, which under Article 29/6 stipulated the greater need to protect people’s safety as well as national security by providing legal frameworks that control disinformation, yet without affecting people’s freedom of speech and opinion.
Following the ratification of the new law, anyone found guilty of disseminating hate speech will be sentenced up to two years of imprisonment or not more than 100,000 Ethiopian birr (3,300 U.S. dollars).
The new law also stated that if the hate speech disseminated leads to an attack on individuals or groups, the offender shall be sentenced from one to five years of imprisonment. It also stated that 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 and not more than 100,000 Ethiopian birr.
However, some members of the Ethiopian House of Peoples Representative also raised concern regarding the newly endorsed bill, as they emphasized that the law obstructs citizens’ rights to freedom of speech and opinion.
The East African country, which has more than 80 different ethnic groups, has in recent years been struggling with growing trend of hate speech and disinformation that also often blamed as a contributing factor to the increasing inter-communal conflicts as hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians displaced across the country.
According to the UN migration agency, in 2018, Ethiopia recorded the third-highest number of new displacements worldwide, with some 3,191,000 Internally Displaced Persons 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 among ethnic factions.