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The New Hate Speech & Disinformation Suppression Proclamation No. 1185/2020: What it is and what it means to Freedom of Expression in Ethiopia

On February 13, the Ethiopian parliament passed the controversial bill countering hate speech and disinformation in #Ethiopia.
1/Many activists, academia, and human rights defenders are concerned about the potential impact of this law. Now the bill is approved as a law. As an observer of this drafting process, I would like to briefly highlight affirmative moves, and areas of concerns.
3/The Good moves

The drafters—the Attorney General (AG) and lawmakers were guided by good faith and incorporated many of our major concerns both at the parliamentary hearing and written submissions. First, the definition of hate speech embraced ‘intent’ element.
4/The incitement requirement is also included. As such, hate speech means speech that incites hatred, discrimination or attack intentionally against a person or an identifiable group, based on ethnicity, religion, race, gender or disability.
5/“የጥላቻ ንግግር ማለት በአንድ ሰዉ ወይም የተወሰነ ቡድን ላይ ያነጣጠረ፣ ብሄርን፡ብሄረሰብንና ህዝብን፣ ሀይማኖትን፤ ዘርን፣ ጾታን ወይም አካል ጉዳተኝነትን መሰረት በማድረግ ሆነ ተብሎ ጥላቻን፣ መድሎን ወይም ጥቃትን የሚያነሳሳ ንግግር ነው።”
6/The Proclamation tried to give definitions for vague terms such as ‘discrimination’ and ‘attack’. Importantly, the Proclamation defined the term ‘disseminating’ as reaching out speech to people at large through various ways but doesn’t include like or tag on social media.
7/In terms of social media responsibility; as per article 8(2) of the Proclamation, the Social media service providers should act within 24 hours to remove or take out of circulation disinformation or hate speech upon receiving notifications about such communication or post.
8/In my article I argued that Ethiopia could do the same like Germany. <…>This is an interesting development, and it makes Ethiopia the handful Sub-Saharan country to having a modern content moderation law governing social media networks such as Facebook.
9/ The Flip sides

I am concerned that the law uses vague terms such as ‘hatred’ though we advised them to draw an inspiration from ‘Camden Principles’ as it defines ‘hatred’ to mean to intense & irrational emotions of opprobrium, enmity & detestation towards the target group.
10/ As hate speech is an emotive concept, the law shouldn’t be subjective otherwise the government could use wider discretion to (ab)use the law as it pleases. Also it is not in line with the legality requirement under article 19(3) of the ICCPR.
11/Besides, the term ‘disseminating’ is quite problematic as it doesn’t clearly address whether sharing of a post or re-posting amounts to disseminating. It would have been great if the Proclamation uses the term ‘advocacy’ than disseminating since it shortfall intent.
12/Moreover, it was regrettable that the Proclamation overlooks the Rabat Plan of Action. We have been submitted a provision allowing courts to use six factors mentioned in the Action Plan. @davidakaye @LaetitiaBader @rhussein_
13/ Chilling Effect

The Proclamation would have a chilling effect on freedom of expression in Ethiopia. It has a stern criminal provision that includes both imprisonment and severe fines.

see @LaetitiaBader thread here
14/Although it is bizarre to see 5,000 followers’ standard as a threshold; the move seems quite novel, and arbitrary. Is that based on Facebook’s friendship limit or another?
15/Per art7(4), if hate speech or disinformation has been committed through a social media account having more than 5,000 followers..., the person responsible for the act shall be punished with simple imprisonment not exceeding three years and a fine not exceeding 100,000 birr.
16/As such, the fine is quite mammoth money compared to the income of activists and writers on social media so that this law will police and self-censor free speech on the Internet even will force them to reduce friends or followers to escape punishment.
17/What's Next

I hope the government should prepare enabling #Regulation to clarify those vague terms. Also the fine of Social Media Networks is not specified in the Proclamation.
18/While applying the law, Judges and Public Prosecutors should get an advanced short-term trainings to understand the nuances of hate speech law. The CSOs must work on media literacy, and on how to report to the social media networks for content moderation.
19/Finally, to tackle hate speech through non-legal means; the CSOs,faith-based institutions and academia should engage in dialogue, media literacy and civic rights discourse. @CARDEthiopia @NDREthiopia @befeqe @AtnafB @EliasMeseret @btayeg @AllRightsForAll
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