News Analysis: Ministry calls on police, state and federal law enforcement to step up work to bring perpetrators of hate speech and misinformation to justice

Awel Sultan; Photo: EPA

Addis Ababa – The Ministry of Justice said law enforcement institutions including the police, regional and federal judicial institutions should step up their efforts to control the spread of false information and hate speech in Ethiopia by bringing the perpetrators to justice.

Awel Sultan, director of public relations and communications at the Ministry of Justice, is quoted by the state agency EPA as saying that the prevention of the spread of false information and hate speech in Ethiopia was not put in place. work on the necessary scale.

Awol accused the fact that currently most media based abroad and those in the country, but who open fake accounts on social networks, disseminate messages that may cause conflicts between nations and different religions, but no action is taken.

Awel said that from now on, the police should already start investigating those who spread false information until they meet the criminal requirements set out in the proclamation, adding that communities can give tips and that prosecutors are responsible for directing and investigating criminal activity; the police can initiate criminal investigations during the proceedings and take the case to court if fully investigated. Awel added that this practice will indeed be implemented.

Because such a process was not initiated and implemented by law enforcement institutions, people were deviating from the line and indulging in spreading false information to some extent, a- he said, and added that there was a lot of work being done to educate and inform the public about the Proclamation to Prevent and Remove Hate Speech and Misinformation.

Awol accused the fact that currently most of the media based abroad and those in the country, but who open fake “accounts” on social networks, spread messages that could cause conflicts between nations and different religions. , but no action is taken.

The main purpose of the proclamation was to prevent incitement between different people living in harmony with each other, between nations and religions. Although this is a proclamation meant to take action against those who commit such incitement, in reality there are many violations of this law on Facebook and other social media platforms.

Accordingly, the police, regional states and federal justice and law enforcement agencies will begin work to bring to justice those involved in the commission of such crimes, and investigations will be intensified through measures aimed at bring the perpetrators to justice.

Awel said the Department of Justice has done a lot of work since the law was enacted and the work has been mostly sympathetic or just conveying the issue, as well as focusing on communications to create a community awareness and understanding and enabling communities to pass the baton. authors. For this reason, many people, especially those close to the media, know that a proclamation has been issued to prevent hate speech and the spreading of false information.

To that end, there are changes and improvements around the subject, he said, and added that the fact that people with real social media accounts are becoming more and more cautious about what information they pass on is a testament to the work done to create awareness about the law. Now, those who break the law and commit this crime are not doing it out of ignorance, but deliberately to cause unrest in the community, Awel said.

Background

On February 13, 2020, the Ethiopian parliament approved the Prevention and Suppression of Hate Speech and Disinformation Act by a majority vote, 23 against and 2 abstentions. and on March 23 similarly, the law was published in the Official Gazette as Proclamation No. 1185 “Prevention and Suppression of Hate Speech and Disinformation Proclamation”.

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 the subject of criticism from press freedom and human rights advocates around the world for a variety of reasons, including to be vague about its classification as “hate speech” or to be flawed 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 aims to regulate people’s freedom of expression online must be evidence-based. In this case, the legislation should have been based on research into the real impact of harmful content online and how organized disinformation can influence discourse, as well as whether the existing provisions of the criminal code address the root causes. Instead of undertaking or relying on such research, the government appears to have made online hate speech an easy scapegoat for violence that may have deeper roots, while pushing through new legislation which increases its power of censorship.

ARTICLE 19, an international human rights organization, said its analysis of the proclamation found that it “did not meet international human rights standards as it imposed criminal penalties to anyone who has posted, broadcast, or even owned content that falls under extremely broad definitions.” of “hate speech” and “false information”. ”

Similar concerns were raised by Human Rights Watch (HRW) long before the draft proclamation was approved, which said that “the use of hate speech laws around the world shows that authorities have often abused them to political purposes”. HRW recommended that “the Ethiopian government has a range of tools to combat hate speech that does not involve the criminalization of protected speech. This can start with publicly condemning rhetoric that fuels ethnic tensions and ensuring that government officials promote dialogue that fosters tolerance.

A host of local and international press freedom advocates, including a team of UN experts, the first mission to Ethiopia by a United Nations (UN) special procedures mandate holder since 2006, also expressed serious reservations about the proclamation’s excesses aimed at restricting freedom of expression and freedom of the press. AS

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