UN free speech expert to visit Ethiopia after new PM ends severe restrictions


David Kaye, the United Nations special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, starts a week-long visit to Ethiopia on December 02. This marks the first visit by a UN special rapporteur to the country since 2006, as previous governments had refused to grant access.

Reforms initiated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in his first months in office in 2018 aimed at ending severe restrictions on the media and free speech have slowed, and the government has occasionally resorted to old tools of repression.

With elections scheduled for May 2020, it’s unclear whether the government will allow open debate on sensitive issues.

While the government has said it would repeal the restrictive 2009 anti-terrorism law, authorities continue to detain journalists under the law’s provisions, because a replacement law is still under review in parliament.

Regarding hate speech both online and offline, Kaye recently called on governments to “resist criminalizing such speech except in the gravest situations.”

The country has over recent months faced very serious communal violence and inciting hate speech online, and the government faces pressure to respond.

But Ethiopia’s primary response thus far has been to draft a hate speech law, currently before parliament, that includes a vague and overbroad provision criminalizing hate speech that threatens freedom of expression. (Source: HRW)