Visit the new AsenaTv Website

Tackling Hate Speech in Ethiopia – Criminalizing Speech Won’t Solve Problem

Felix Horne Senior Researcher, Horn of Africa Hate and dangerous speech is a serious and growing problem in Ethiopia, both online and offline. It has contributed to the growing ethnic tensions and conflicts across the country that

Felix Horne

Senior Researcher, Horn of Africa

Hate and dangerous speech is a serious and growing problem in Ethiopia, both online and offline. It has contributed to the growing ethnic tensions and conflicts across the country that have created more than 1.4 million new internally displaced people in the first half of 2018 alone. The government says it will pass a new law on hate speech to counter this. But around the world, laws criminalizing hate speech have been often and easily abused – and there are other options.

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.

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.

What Ethiopia needs is a comprehensive new strategy – one that even a carefully drawn hate speech law should only be one small part of. This could include public education campaigns, programs to improve digital literacy, and efforts to encourage self-regulation within and between communities. The prime minister and other public figures could also speak out regularly and openly about the dangers of hate speech. Donors, eager to support the reform process, could help support such a strategy. And social media companies should do more, including ensuring they have sufficient resources to respond quickly to reports that speech on their platform may lead to violence.

Ethiopians also need new platforms and opportunities to express their grievances and discuss critical issues, beyond social media. The growing list of independent media outlets, as well as universities, civil society organizations, political parties, and others could provide helpful environments for discussion.

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. It should be careful not to undermine those efforts by drafting a new law that could be used for the same kinds of abuse.

Source: HRW

Review overview
  • rezen December 4, 2018

    Subject: Tackling Hate Speech in Ethiopia – Criminalizing Speech Won’t Solve Problem, Felix Horne Senior Researcher, Horn of Africa, December 4, 2018

    Reading the wise Commentary above reminded me of a humorous little story I heard, a long time ago, in relation to FREEDOM.

    The humorous story takes place in the world-famous Piccadilly Square, London, England

    A new comer (immigrant) to England was happily walking leisurely, swinging his umbrella freely, and enjoying the hustle bustle of Piccadilly Square.

    A typical British Gentleman, who was walking behind the happy new comer, was conscious of the swinging umbrella in front of him. He approached the new comer on the side and said: Sir, YOUR UMBRELLA IS DANGEROUS

    The new comer retorted with pride, being intoxicated by new freedom: ‘IT IS MY UMBRELLA, I AM FREE TO SWING IT AS I LIKE’

    The British Gentleman, in the usual cool, dignified, manner, said: ‘THAT MAY BE SO, BUT YOUR FREEDOM ENDS WHERE MY NOSE BEGINS’ and walked away.


  • aditekelezan December 4, 2018

    ኣብ ኤርትራ ድላይካ ክትዛረብን ኣይትኽእልን ዝብሃል ሓሶትዩ ! ድላይካ ኽትዛረብ ትኽእል ኢኻ, ድሓር ግን ትእሰር ቶርቸር ትግበርን ትቕተልን እምበር ምዝራብሲ ኸም ድሌትካ.

  • AHMED SALEH !!! December 4, 2018

    Westerners do not tolerate hate speech . Ethiopian government
    must criminalize such activity that
    had been cancerous in their societies .
    Most of ethnic violence was the
    result of hatred and division speech
    followers . To punish a person who
    promote ugly activities must also
    his price for the pain he inflicted .

  • aditekelezan December 4, 2018

    ኣሰናን Tigrai on lineን ብጣዕሚ ዘድንቐን ድረገጻት እየን ኔረን,ግን ክልቲኤን ኣብቲ ኣጀንድኤን ዝድምሰሰሉ ጊዜ ምስ በጽሔ ተጻዋርነት ስኢነን. Tigrai online ነቲ ኣብ ጽቡቕን ሕማቕን ዝደገፈቶ ወያነ ክሃስስን ታሪኽ ክኸውንን ክትርእዮ ነምሓራን ኣቢይን ዝጸርፍ እንተዘይኮይኑ ካልእ ፍሉይ ሓሳብ 98% ዳርጋ ተኸልኪሉ. ኣሰናና ንሕበነላ ዝነበርና ድማ ኣጀንዳ ኤርትራውነት ኣብ ድሮ ምፍሻሉ ስለዝኾነ ወይ ንቑጽን ንኽትቃወሞ ዘየጸግምን eg. ከም ናይ Gezae እንተዘይኮይኑ ወይ እቲ Tsehaye ዘምጽኦ sophisticated ሓሳብ ድማ ደቂ ሓደ ጎዶቦን ውድብን ተራባሪቦም ክሳዕ ዝድህልዎን ዘይሽሙ ህግደፍ ዝሰምይዎን ሓንሳእ ሓንሳእ ይፍቀደሉ . እንተዘይኮነ ግን 98.6% ፍሉይ ሓሳብ ዳርጋ ተኸልኪሉ. ባባ ኢሳያስ ድኣ ደይ ቁሩብዩ ካብዚኣ ዝገድድ !!!

    • Simon G. December 5, 2018

      ብጀካይን ብጀካ ሃይለ ዘብሄረ-ሰራየን ካበይ ምኻኖም ዝጠቐሱ ሰባት ዘለዉ ኣይመስለንን።
      ከመይ’ልካ ደቂ ሓደ-ጎደቦ ትብል? ዶ ዋላስ ‘ዛ መርዛም ደብተር ወለዶና ናይ ግዜ-ረፈረንደም ኣብ ኢድካ ‘ላ?
      ገነት: K. ተወልደ: ዳኒሎ: ኣሕመድ ሳልሕ: ረዘን: መረጸ (ኣንታ ኣበይ ጠፊኡ? ደሓን ይግበሮ ጥራይ): ወዘተረፈ …ካበይ ከምዝኾኑ ከመይ ትፈልጥ፧?
      Did you just say ” ኣጀንዳ ኤርትራውነት ኣብ ድሮ ምፍሻሉ …” ? This will never happen. You will soon be disappointed.
      As always, with respect!

  • Sol December 5, 2018

    ኣሽንኳያ ዶ ሎሚ ብሓደ ዕቡድ ውልቀ መላኽን ውሑዳት ብድሑር ሕማም ዝተጠቅዑ ኮራኹሩን ኣይኮነን ብመስፍናዊትን\ዴሳዊትን ኢትዮጵያን ሓብሓብታን ዝነበሩ ርእሲ ሓያላን ኣጀንዳ ኤረትራዊነት ከፍሽልዎ ኣይካኣሉን።

    • memhir December 5, 2018

      In few words, you wrote in gold letters the real character of the Eritrean people. It may take another generation but a two-bit dictator from a different culture and the “wannabe Eritrean” supporters cannot prevent the triumph of the people: This I predict!