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House passes controversial hate speech, disinformation bill into law

23 MPs oppose

After months of revisions and public meetings, the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) on Thursday approved the controversial Hate Speech and Disinformation draft proclamation.

The House endorsed the bill with a majority vote. The law is meant to safeguard the spread of hate speech and false information, as well as prevent individuals from engaging in speeches that incite violence, promote hatred and discrimination against a person or a group. The bill was opposed by 23 members while two MPs abstained.

A handful of MPs criticized various provisions of the new law, arguing it violates article 29 of the constitution which grants citizens absolute freedom of expression without any boundaries. Thus, the 23 MPs, opposed the bill arguing it is meant to curtail freedom of expression and the media.

Others have said the law should have been legislated only for politicians rather than for the entire country.

The law prohibits dissemination of false information by means of broadcasting, print or social media, using texts, images, audio and videos. It further states that any person convicted of hate speech shall be imprisoned for two years or fined up to 100,000 birr.

The majority, on the other hand, argued that regulating the problematic online content has become a pressing issue in Ethiopia. They said it is pretty urgent for Ethiopia to regulate hate speech and disinformation, which has significantly contributed to the polarized political climate, ethnic violence and displacements across the country.

In the same session, the House has passed five other bills plus the revised excise tax law with four voting against and seven abstaining.

This particular bill has been the hot subject among the public, whose initial draft bill proposed higher rates of excise taxes on various goods.

On Thursday’s session, the House approved the law after a revision was made on the initial draft bill. Accordingly, the excise tax levied on new vehicles with engines below 1,300 cc is reduced to five percent from the initially proposed 30 percent.

Moreover, the excise tax on a one to two year old cars is reduced to 55 percent from 80 percent, for a 2-4 year old cars was reduced to 105 percent from 130 percent, 4-7 year old cars receive 205 percent from the 230 percent levied previously. For a seven year old car, it is reduced to 405 percent from the 430 percent.

However, the excise tax on tobacco increased to 8 birr per pack from the initially proposed 5 birr. On bottled water; it is reduced to 10 percent from the proposed 15 percent, while the House scrapped the proposed 5 percent excise tax imposed on telecom services.

Among the other bills passed include: the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind and Visually Impaired, Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights of Older Persons in Africa, the Federal Administrative Procedure Act (APA), African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention).