Ethiopia’s experience with freedom of expression has not been an open one. This has been a result of repressive laws that put restrictions on its free exercise. For this reason, the free articulation and sharing of ideas by the public have for the most part been restricted up until now.
This said, however, even since the current Prime Minister assumed power, several liberalization measures have been taken. The reform on freedom of expression is one area such reform can be observed. Specifically in this regard, the administration has adopted the Mass Media Proclamation through a consultative process with a number of stakeholders.
This research explores the legal framework of freedom of expression in Ethiopia. With due consideration to the vital importance of “..an individual’s right to articulate one's opinion effectively without fear of retaliation or censorship or legal sanction”, the paper inspects the legal foundations;
(to be found in the Constitution and other subsidiary legislation), of freedom of expression in the Ethiopian legal framework. More specifically, it discusses the major legal principles the Country has adopted thus far.
In order to examine the nature of the steps taken, the paper identifies the developments which are to be found in the abovementioned legal frameworks. In doing so, it highlights the restrictions on freedom of expression that are to be found in previous legislation. Moreover, it highlights the positive steps taken by the current administration towards further liberalization of the right of freedom of expression. Noteworthy among such steps is the Mass Media Proclamation that has been adopted by the House of Representatives as of April 5, 2021. Comprising the steps taken by the current administration towards further liberalization of the right of freedom of expression, for the most part, the steps taken on the promotion of the right have been noteworthy. In addition to this, the Proclamation has been noteworthy because the consultative process for its adoption has brought together a number of important stakeholders.
This said however, there are some gaps to be found in the Proclamation that may potentially put restrictions on the right of freedom of expression. This especially with regards to their enforcement mechanisms and punishments for the offense committed. Specifically, the restrictions on the right of freedom of expression that is provided under the ‘Computer Crime and Hate Speech and Disinformation Prevention and Suppression proclamation’ have been stipulated in an ambiguous, vague and subjective manner. Furthermore, the gaps to be found in the enforcement mechanisms (in relation to the right of access to information), are making the right of freedom of expression obscure. Moreover, the punishments as provided for the breach of the restrictions on freedom of expression are disproportionately exposing the media to self-censorship.
Appreciable efforts have been made by the current administration to liberalize the legal foundations of freedom of expression. Nonetheless, the gaps identified above should be effectively addressed with a concerted effort of the government and all relevant stakeholders.