by Ayele Addis Ambelu (Ethiopian Media Development Researcher and Journalist) – Ethiopian Mass Media Action (EMMA)

One of the rights recognized by the FDRE constitution is the right to freedom of expression. This right is enshrined in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination. When we look at the constitution and these international treaties, and when we look at the experience of countries that have a good reputation for respecting freedom of expression, we realize that this right is not an absolute right, but a restricted right. It is a common practice in democratic countries to restrict the right to freedom of expression by carefully examining and weighing the purpose of the restriction, the importance and proportionality of the restriction. Strengthening the democratic system in Ethiopia, Ethiopia, cannot be without this experience.

It is clear that the spread of hate speech and false propaganda, especially with the current political freedom, is a serious threat to national peace and security and the sustainability of the movement for change. Hate speech in Rwanda, as well as in Germany and throughout Europe in the mid-20th century, is a case in point. In order to prevent such a tragedy, it is important to refrain from hate speech and to criminalize it. Article 19 (3) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) clearly states that the right to freedom of expression comes with responsibility and that necessary restrictions may be enacted, in particular the protection of the rights of others, national security and peace.

Article 20 of the Convention further prohibits hate speech, harassment, and discrimination based on race, ethnicity, or religion. Based on the above facts, the need for a law that explicitly and directly prohibits hate speech is clear. Related to this is the deliberate spread of false information. In particular, the proliferation of social media and related technologies has led to the spread of false and deliberate misinformation in many countries, leading to political unrest and conflict. Recognizing that this problem is spreading with the advancement of information technology and is a threat to democracy, various countries are enacting laws to address the problem. These include France, Germany, and Kenya. India, one of the world’s largest democracies, has begun legislating to prevent the spread of false information, and the problem has prompted the government to take action, including shutting down the Internet at various times.

In Ethiopia, it is known that the recent clashes and attacks caused by the spread of false information have resulted in the loss of lives and other injuries. However, the lack of legislation that can directly and adequately address this issue could lead to a worsening of the problem and a greater national risk. Therefore, it is necessary to fill this gap and prevent the harm to the country and the people by using the right to freedom of expression in a way that is completely inappropriate and contrary to its origin and purpose. In this regard, it should be noted that the law is enacted to curb hate speech and the spread of false information, to protect the basic rights of citizens, national and public security, to maintain peace, and to protect and control democracy and freedom from hatred and lies.

Therefore, in this regard, the restriction on the right to freedom of expression is acceptable in a democratic system, as long as it is exercised and exercised carefully.

2. The process during which the draft proclamation was prepared

After submitting the draft to the Council of Ministers, a discussion was held with the participation of political parties and other stakeholders, in line with the direction of the Prime Minister’s Office. In the previous draft proclamation, various discussion forums were held, as well as the release of the draft by the Attorney General’s official social media page and the way in which the comments were collected. The forums focused on scholars, journalists, civil society and political party leaders. In addition to page-by-page discussions, there were also written comments. Opinions in these ways varied, and the focus was on the importance of the law. Some have argued that such a law is more harmful than beneficial, that it could be used by the government to intimidate critics, while others argue that the law is needed and should have been enacted earlier. In particular, there has been a great deal of debate and discussion about the legality of such a law. As a result, repeated comments were made on the content of the draft, particularly on the definition of prohibited activities, the amount of penalties, and the intention to disseminate such dissenting speeches, and efforts were made to amend the draft, including these comments as appropriate.

3. Detailed content of the draft proclamation

A. General Part of the Proclamation,

which deals with general provisions, consists of one or three articles, one of which explains the short title or title of the Proclamation. Article 2 defines the terms and phrases used in the Proclamation that are deemed necessary for the use of this Proclamation. The purpose of the proclamation is stated in Article Three and it is stated that the proclamation is necessary for three purposes. The first is that when people exercise their right to freedom of expression, they incite conflict or violence or ethnicity; Religion; Refrain from making hateful or discriminatory remarks against an individual or group based on race, gender, or disability; Second, tolerance, dialogue and consultation, encouraging respect and understanding, and promoting democracy are all part of controlling the spread and spread of hate speech, false information and other related false and misleading information. In short, this proclamation needs to be enacted in the absence of existing laws to enforce these objectives and to combat the scourge of hate speech and the spread of false information.

B / Prohibited activities

Prohibition of Hate Speech under Part Two of the Proclamation Prohibition of the dissemination of false information and specific actions are listed. Article 4 prohibits the dissemination of hate speech in broadcast, print, or social media text, images, audio, or video. Pursuant to Article 2 (2), hate speech means targeting a person or group, a nation; Religion; Article 5 promotes hate speech, discrimination, or harassment based on race, gender, or disability. It is important to carefully consider the meaning of the false information provided in Article 2 (3) in order to determine when a statement may be criminally prosecuted under this Act. Pursuant to Article 2 (3), “false information” is more likely to cause a disturbance or conflict if there is good reason to believe that the information is false, or that the person disseminating the information should have known the falsehood of the information. Article 6 of the Proclamation lists specific issues related to the prohibition of hate speech and the dissemination of false information, and in sub-article 1, the dissemination of information as hate speech or false information is part of an educational or scientific research report; Part of analysis or political criticism; It is said to be a product of art, acting or similar art, or religious teachings. Therefore, any of the above-mentioned methods should not be construed as hate speech or false information. The provisions of sub-article 2 of this Article are of special interest in the dissemination of false information. It is said that a person who disseminates or makes a speech that is not prohibited as false information has made reasonable efforts to ensure the veracity of the information, or that the speech tends to be political commentary rather than factual reporting or news. Such special circumstances need to be addressed in order to minimize the potential negative impact of the law on the right to freedom of expression.

C) Criminal liability, responsibilities of institutions and service providers Section 3 of the Proclamation stipulates the punishment for hate speech and the dissemination of false information in Articles 4 and 5; Responsibilities of institutions and service providers; It sets out the repealed laws and the timing of the proclamation. Under Article 7 of the Proclamation, penalties for hate speech and dissemination of information are punishable. Subject to hate speech, Article 4 of the Proclamation stipulates that the offenses referred to in Article 4 of the Proclamation shall be punishable by up to three years imprisonment or a fine not exceeding one hundred thousand birr; If an individual or group is assaulted or attempted as a result of the prohibited acts under Article 4 of this Proclamation, the perpetrator shall be punished with imprisonment of up to five years in accordance with the provisions of this Proclamation. It stipulates. On the other hand, in the case of the dissemination of false information, anyone who violates Article 5 of this Proclamation shall be punished with imprisonment of up to one year or a fine not exceeding fifty thousand birr; A person who commits an act prohibited by Article 5 of this Proclamation shall be punished with a simple imprisonment of up to three years or a fine not exceeding Birr 100,000 if the act is committed on a social media site with more than five thousand followers, or on broadcast services or periodicals. Article 5 of this Proclamation stipulates that if an individual or group is attacked or attempted to commit an act of violence, Article 5, in the event of violence or conflict, shall be punishable by up to five years’ imprisonment. The court also provides that if this proclamation is deemed appropriate for the correction of a person responsible for a crime and that no individual or group has been assaulted or attempted in violation of the Prohibited Act, violence or conflict may not occur. In general, the penalties set out in this article should be kept in mind that they are sufficient and appropriate to educate the parties involved in the crimes, and that the need to develop and eliminate them through education and training, rather than just increasing the punishment.

D. Responsibilities of institutions and service providers

It stipulates the responsibilities of institutions and service providers under Article 8 of the Proclamation, and any social media service provider is obliged to immediately refrain from disseminating or disseminating prohibited speech if it is subjected to the control or restriction of prohibited speech under Articles 4 and 5. Every social media service must have procedures and policies in place to meet the obligations set out in subsections 1 and 2; The Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) will monitor and support social media service providers to fulfill their obligations under the proclamation and develop and implement awareness programs to prevent the spread of false information and harm. It is also stipulated that the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission will develop and implement awareness-raising programs to prevent hate speech, and a regulation outlining the responsibilities of institutions and service providers may be enacted by the Council of Ministers. He also said that the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority (EBA) will prepare a public report twice a year to monitor the fulfillment of its obligations under the proclamation, while maintaining the civil liability that may result from non-compliance with the proclamation. The obligation on social media organizations is not focused on punishment and criminal liability, but on the morale of these institutions to act responsibly and, more importantly, to create a conducive environment for civil accountability.

E) About the repealed laws and the period of validity of the proclamation

Finally, Article 9 of the Proclamation repeals Article 486 of the Criminal Code and Article 10 of the Proclamation shall come into force on the date of its publication in the Federal Negarit Gazeta. There are various reasons for repealing Article 486 of the Penal Code. First of all, this article protects the government and the authorities from false rumors and gossip. Such protection for the authorities is not acceptable, especially in a democratic context. Unlike other citizens, democratic officials and the government are not protected from gossip, suspicion, or gossip. Officials and the government are expected to use the media better than ordinary citizens to refute rumors. It is also assumed that the person in charge of the government has taken over the responsibility, knowing that he or she may face criticism, unreasonable, factual or untrue. Such exaggerated and unrealistic criticism should not be criminalized in a democratic context, as it would be a crime to question and punish political criticism and debate. In addition, Article 486 does not provide sufficient detail to prevent false information and hate speech. 4. Summary The right to freedom of expression is one of the basic human rights, and although this is unquestionably fundamental, it is also one of the rights prohibited by law. Namely, hatred, exclusion, conflict, which are covered by freedom of expression; Violence and the like need to be protected by law, which disrupts and damages the good relations between individuals and society as a whole. We would like to inform you that we have drafted a proclamation to control the spread of hate speech and false information as the good values ​​of the society in our country are being eroded by these hate speech and the spread of false information.

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Analysis of Ethiopia’s Hate Speech and Disinformation prevention and Suppression Proclamation No 1185/2020 by Ayele Addis Ambelu.

Funded by African Media Development Program -Amhara Media/Journalists Association