Ethiopia’s parliament on Thursday passed a controversial law that aims to punish people for spreading hate speech and disinformation, reported Reuters. The law’s approval comes just months ahead of a major election in the country.
The Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation law bans spreading hate speech and fake news stories that fuel discrimination “against individuals or groups based on their nationality, ethnic and religious affiliation, sex or disabilities”. It includes creating or sharing social media posts that could lead to violence or disturbance of public order.
Notably, liking or tagging any such posts or content on social media will not come under the law. People found violating the law could face a fine of as high as 100,000 Ethiopian birr ($3,115) and imprisonment of up to five years. Around 297 legislators voted in favor of the bill, while 23 voted against it with two abstentions.
“Ethiopia has become a victim of disinformation,” lawmaker Abebe Godebo said. “The country is a land of diversity and this bill will help to balance those diversities.”
The lawmakers who opposed the bill argue that the law violates a constitutional guarantee of free speech. Rights groups have also criticized the law, questioning the government’s motive behind passing such legislation.
Ethiopia has been reeling with deadly ethnic violence since June 2018, after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed rolled out some major political reforms to create a more open political and media environment in the country. Though Abiy’s efforts earned him the Nobel Peace Prize, the critics accuse him of authoritarian tendencies, including locking up political opponents.
Abiy’s cabinet had first endorsed the controversial law in November last year. His government claims there is an immediate need to legislate against hate speech because it has been partly blamed for rising ethnic violence in the East African nation.