Ethiopia approves controversial hate speech law


Lawmakers in Ethiopia have approved controversial law aimed at tackling hate speech that critics warn could be used to restrict freedom of expression.

The law is designed to online hate speech and disinformation, as part of the government’s efforts to ease growing ethnic tension in Ethiopia. However, rights groups and activists fear the law will fail to achieve this while potentially targeting people who make innocent mistakes or publish content the government doesn’t approve of.

Ethiopia approves hate speech law

Since coming into power in April 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been an advocate for freedom of expression and political debate. Under sweeping reforms, he has welcomed back opposition and rebel groups that were previously outlawed as terrorist organisations and freed thousands of political prisoners – many of whom were detained under the country’s vague terrorism laws that were used to arbitrarily detained government critics under the former regime.

There are fears the new hate speech laws could be used in a similar way to curb freedom of speech.

The new law has been approved ahead of crucial elections with Aboy Ahmed facing increasing pressure to tackle ethnic violence that has consumed much of the country. By opening up the political landscape, the PM’s reforms have also empowered political groups to air old grievances with some opportunists using them to drum up support.

The ethnic tension has been deadly in parts of the country and ongoing violence remains the biggest challenge to Abiy’ election hopes.

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