UN urges Ethiopia to stop internet shutdowns

UN urges Ethiopia to stop internet shutdowns

David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression, has urged Ethiopia on Monday to stop shutting off the internet without legal basis.

The UN senior official also called on authorities in the East African nation to revise a draft law meant to curb hate speech to ensure it protects freedom of speech.

Ethiopia has shut the internet access multiple times this year without explanation, although Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has eased free speech restrictions.

“The government continues to think that internet shutdowns are a tool they should use and I want to strongly urge them not to use them as tools and to commit not to using them,” David Kaye told a news conference in Addis Ababa.

The Ethiopian cabinet has recently approved a new bill, called the Computer Crime Proclamation Bill that aims to prevent hate speech and dissemination of fake news, and referred the bill to the House of Representatives for approval.

The bill has not yet been made public, however, judging from the trend of internet controls in Ethiopia including the history of internet shutdowns, it can be deduced that one of the components that the law will touch on will be speech online including platforms such as Facebook and blogs, among others.

Ethiopia is set for elections next year, hence the bill may become a weapon to silence dissent, a coalition of 50 civil society organizations warned earlier this month.

David Kaye asked authorities to reconsider the draft hate speech law that he said would worsen already high ethnic tensions and possibly fuel further violence.

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