Ethiopia: Wolaita District Prosecutor Charges Prominent Academic Asefa Wodajo of “Spreading Hate Speech and Disinformation”

Addis Ababa — The Soddo city prosecutor has charged former Dilla University assistant professor Asefa Wodajo, who is also a member of the Central Committee of the opposition Wolaita National Movement (WNM) party, with violating Proclamation 1185/2012, on the grounds of “Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression Proclamation.” The prosecutor charged the accused with allegedly violating sections 4, 5 and 7(4) of the proclamation.

Article 4, “Prohibition of Hate Speech” which states: “Anyone who disseminates hate speech through broadcasting, print media or social media using text, images, audio or video is prohibited,” and Section 5, “Prohibition on Disseminating Misinformation,” which states: “The dissemination of any misinformation about a public meeting through broadcast, print, or social media using text, images, audio or video is a prohibited act.”

Section 7/4 of the proclamation states that “if the offense of hate speech or disinformation was committed through a social media account with more than 5,000 followers or through a broadcast service or print media, the person responsible for the act shall be punished with simple imprisonment not exceeding three years or a fine not exceeding 100,000 birr.”

Details of the charges filed by prosecutor Teshome Temamo Choramo state that the accused used his Facebook page, Asefa Oyato Wodajo, on which he has more than five thousand followers, to spread “fake news and hate speech”, including using videos to incite conflict and chaos. The prosecution further stated that the accused used his Facebook page to allegedly accuse Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government of destroying multinationalism, intending to crown Menilik and erect his statue; to be a government coming from the Oromo but crushing the Oromo. He also accused the defendant of dismissing the government as one that does not represent the Ethiopian people, among others.

Mentewab Gebreselaslsie, the accused’s wife, said Addis Standard that the prosecutor retrospectively cited Asefa’s Facebook posts from November 2019, but filed the charges under the Proclamation on the Prevention and Suppression of Hate Speech and Misinformation, which was enacted in March 2020 .

Asefa Wodajo appeared in a local court on August 19, according to his wife, Mentewab said. During the hearing, Asefa asked to be released on bail to attend the hearing, saying his “family was facing extreme hardship”. The prosecutor opposed the request of the accused who asked for 14 additional days of investigation; however, the court granted five days and adjourned the next hearing until August 24.

Addis Standard reported the arrest of Asefa by security forces in the town of Sodo, the capital of Wolaita zone, on 07 August. Asafa was one of dozens of individuals to have spent months in detention until recently. The Wolaita area has been the epicenter of ongoing tensions between security forces and civilians following the zonal application for statehood by the Wolaita zonal council. Members of opposition parties, journalists, civil servants and activists have been in and out of police detention over the past two years.

Background

On February 13, 2020, the Ethiopian Parliament approved the Prevention and Suppression of Hate Speech and Disinformation Law with a majority vote, 23 against and 2 abstentions and on March 23 the same the law was published in the Official Gazette as Proclamation No. 1185 “Prevention and Prevention of Hate Speech and Misinformation”. Proclamation of deletion.”

The enactment of the law came two years after the attorney general’s office first announced that the office was finalizing preparations to enact the proclamation. The announcement in 2018 came amid the worst communal violence that rocked the county after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ascended to the post of Prime Minister. Many blamed the violence on hate speech and the disinformation campaign on social media.

However, when the final version of the Proclamation was enacted, it had been criticized by global press freedom and human rights advocates for a variety of reasons, including being vague about its classification as ” hate speech” or to be faulty legislation. “Flawed legislation like this often emerges from flawed process,” said Access Now, an organization that “defends and extends the digital rights of at-risk users around the world.” “Legislation that seeks to regulate people’s freedom of expression online should be evidence-based. In this case, the legislation should have been based on research into the real impact of harmful content online and how which organized disinformation can influence speech, as well as on Instead of undertaking or relying on such research, it appears that the government has made hate speech online an easy scapegoat for violence that can have deeper causes, while pushing through new legislation that increases its power of censorship.”

In April this year, the Ministry of Justice said that law enforcement institutions, including the police, regional and federal judicial institutions, should step up their efforts to control the spread of false information and speech of hatred in Ethiopia by bringing the perpetrators to justice. Awel Sultan, director of public relations and communications at the Ministry of Justice, said the prevention of the spread of false information and hate speech in Ethiopia was not being implemented on the scale needed. AS

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