Ethiopia has a big problem (both online and offline) – hate and dangerous speech. It has created huge ethnic tensions and conflicts across Ethiopia resulting more than 1.4 million new internally displaced people in the first half of 2018 alone.
In the past year, speeches by government officials, activists and others in Ethiopia have disseminated quickly through social media and helped trigger or fuel violent conflicts in the country, as revealed by Human Rights Watch.
It is encouraging that Ethiopia's government says hate speech must be addressed. But any law that limits freedom of expression by punishing hate speech must be narrowly drawn and enforced with restraint, so that it only targets speech that is likely to incite imminent violence or discrimination that cannot be prevented through other means. Many governments have tried and failed to strike the right balance, and Ethiopia's own track record offers reason for alarm. In the past, the Ethiopian government has used vague legal definitions including in its anti-terrorism law, to crack down on peaceful expressions of dissent.
Ethiopia is currently rewriting its civil society law and anti-terrorism law – both of which were used in the past to stifle dissent and limit freedom of expression.