Govt Approves Law That Can Warrant Jail Time for Internet Posts That Cause Unrest

The parliament of Ethiopia recently passed a law imposing jail terms for people whose internet posts stir unrest, a move the government says is needed to prevent violence ahead of elections.

This new law will fine upto 100,000 Ethiopian Birr ($3,000) and imprisonment of upto five years for anyone that shares or creates social media posts that are deemed to result in violence or disturbance of public order.

This law was passed by 297 law makers who were in favour of the bill and 23 were opposed to it. Lawmakers who were opposed to the bill said it violates the constitutional guarantee of free speech.

But even as Ethiopia has made efforts to free political prisoners and journalists and lifted a ban on opposition parties, the authorities have struggled to contain a surge in ethnic violence. An election this year is seen as the biggest test yet of whether his ambitious political reforms can stick. Some 297 lawmakers who were present in the chamber voted in favor of the bill while just 23 were opposed.

“Ethiopia has become a victim of disinformation,” lawmaker Abebe Godebo said. “The country is a land of diversity and this bill will help to balance those diversities.”

The law was first endorsed by Abiy’s cabinet in November. At the time, the U.N.’s special rapporteur on freedom of expression urged authorities to reconsider it, warning it would worsen already high ethnic tensions and possibly fuel further violence.

International rights groups say it creates a legal means for the government to muzzle opponents.

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