Ethiopia Hate Speech Law Risks Stoking Ethnic Tensions, UN Says

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(Bloomberg) --

A new hate speech and disinformation proclamation in Ethiopia could threaten freedom of expression, according to the United Nations.

“As constructed presently, it could reinforce rather than ease ethnic and political tensions,” David Kaye, the UN’s special rapporteur on the right to freedom of opinion and expression, said in a statement after visiting the Horn of Africa nation.

Ethiopia’s cabinet approved a draft law last month aimed at addressing the erosion of “social cohesion, political stability and national unity.” It targets hate speech and dissemination of false information.

While commending Ethiopia’s reform agenda as a “model for democratic processes,” more work still needed to be done, Kaye said. Lawmakers should fast track the repeal of an anti-terrorism proclamation, a law still used to arrest activists and journalists, he said.

Since coming to power last year, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has implemented a reform agenda to open up Africa’s second-most populous country. He has scrapped bans on opposition and rebel groups, released jailed prisoners, purged allegedly corrupt officials and ended two decades of acrimony with neighboring Eritrea -- an initiative that won him the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

However, ethnic violence in October led to the deaths of 86 people, a worrying sign as the country goes to national elections in 2020.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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