The Ethiopian government has passed a law criminalizing social media posts that stir unrest a few months before Ethiopians are scheduled to vote in major elections.
In February, Ethiopia passed a law punishing hate speech with significant fines and long jail terms, despite fears by rights groups that the law undermines freedom of speech, according to News24.
The new law defines hate speech as rhetoric that fuels discrimination “against individuals or groups based on their nationality, ethnic and religious affiliation, sex or disabilities”, AlJazeera reports.
Penalties for disseminating hate speech online and in-person include fines of up to $3,100 and prison terms of up to two years.
These prison terms can be extended to five years if the hate speech or “disinformation” results in “an attack on individuals or groups”.
International rights groups say the law makes it legal for the government to silence critics and protestors.
“The Ethiopian government is under increasing pressure to respond to rising communal violence that has at times been exacerbated by speeches and statements shared online,” said Laetitia Bader, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.
“But an ill-construed law that opens the door for law enforcement officials to violate rights to free expression is no solution.”
Ethiopians are voting in elections in August and tensions are expected to rise ahead of that, AlJazeera reports.
Ethnic violence flared up shortly after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced wide-ranging political reforms for which he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
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The government says there is a need to legislate against hate speech which it blames for rising ethnic violence in the country.