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Ethiopia enacts strict social media and fake news law

Ethiopia enacts strict social media and fake news law

The Ethiopian government has enacted a new law, the Hate Speech and Disinformation Proclamation, which outlaws messages posted online "that could instigate violence or disturbance of public order."

Critics have branded the legislation harsh and believe it could undermine free speech and digital rights.

Online rights advocacy group Paradigm Initiative released a statement which reads in part: "The history of Ethiopia has always had the government keeping an upper hand on the citizens through oppressive laws and internet censorship. Waves of protests have been on the rise since 2015 with violence and human rights violations highly observed at such times including killing of protestors and regular internet shutdowns."

"Content has been a landscape that the country has tried to control by taking down websites and maintaining monopoly of the telecom sector .Despite the progress made since Prime Minister Abiy took over, the information space is still highly regulated, with last year alone reporting more than 3 shutdowns," the statement continued.

Paradigm Initiative said Ethiopia's government should reconsider the legislation and argued that hate speech cannot be combated by regulating freedom of speech and that more rights violations will be witnessed in the country.

David Kaye, United Nations Special Rapporteur said that the law could criminalise people who merely re-post or share such information since it doesn't limit the offence.

"In this context, the draft's excessive vagueness means that officials at the federal and regional level would have practically unbounded discretion to determine whom to investigate and prosecute, leading to an almost certain inconsistency in approach and a potential wave of arbitrary arrests and prosecutions," said Kaye.

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