April 8, 2019
By: Abdiaziz Ali
Freedom of speech and expression, especially when it comes to social media usage, was recklessly exploited so much and to what somewhat comprise hate speech was mistaken for it. Currently, in Ethiopia, we have seen claims of political commentators, political parties and individual activists claiming to speak for the people and the country, stressing misinformation, to satisfy their audience for political gain. Bloggers and Facebook users are the biggest contributors to the confusion.
As you can test Prime Minister Abiy’s recent two pages statement which he gave robust critics about social media, you can understand that the focus of this bill is on social media as like no other platforms. Hillary Clinton’s speech at AU Headquarter in Ethiopia on mid-2011, ‘’ there is no more secrets because of the Social media, because of the incredible technology can inform a young person in the rural area, where there are no roads, but there are cellphones.”
Everyone knows what social media means for Abiy’s government and Social media took a big credit for the past political changes in Ethiopia including Abiy’s premiership came through the social media ladder after a massive protest in the country. After the arrival of Abiy as a prime minister, social media activities have increased. It gave a hard time and put lots of weight on the government. Demolition of thousands of houses in Legetafo by the government, Internal Displaced people (IDPs), Addis Ababa Ownership movements in Oromia region and many more were the main topics for social media activists.
Even though some social media activities have a positive effect like pointing the critics of any sitting government and any leader who is not acting the right direction, it is for hate speech and misinformation that no one cannot bring into the place. Amhara regional state Vice President Melaku Alebel said last week on a public meeting “currently the war is not through armors but fraudulent social media activities. We should say no to those who are trying to degrade our personality and unity through social media.”
The issue becomes the biggest worry of the government and the Ethiopian Federal Attorney general prepared a draft bill which as per the government will help to fight dissemination of false information and hate speech. The ratification of the bill, citizens involved in writing and/or deliberate dissemination of hate speech can put behind bars up to three years and pay up to 10,000 Ethiopian Birr. An individual or individuals who happen to cause fear or threat as a result of hate speech can face up to 10 years.
The importance of this bill, according to a report by EBC, is to make sure that freedom of expression is not perused at the expense of dignity, security, and safety of other citizens.
At this stage of Ethiopian political reform -which is the most needed and good enough move by the government – it shouldn’t be neglected that some people are losing view of freedom of speech and expression and associating it to freedom of lawlessness and anarchy. One thing must be explicit to all, NO ONE IS ABOVE THE LAW.
Abdiaziz Ali is an Educationist, Humanitarian, Campaigner, and Child Right Advocate. Mr. Ali lives Jigjiga, Ethiopia and can be reached from firstname.lastname@example.org