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Digital rights coalition mobilises against draft legislation

Digital rights coalition mobilises against draft legislation

A coalition of civil society organisations in the digital circuit has called on Cameroon, Ethiopia, Gambia, Nigeria, and other African countries to curtail legislation purported to tackle fake news and hate speech in Africa.

The 47-member coalition includes the Bloggers Association of Kenya, the Collaboration on International ICT Policy for East and Southern Africa, Gambia Cyber Security Alliance, Internet Sans Frontiers and Paradigm Initiative (PI).

A signed statement by the coalition says the draft bills being considered by these countries have "provisions that would negatively impact how people participate online and use digital platforms" which are "against obligations to Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to protect the right of everyone to freedom of opinion and expression."

It specifically refers to the newly-approved Computer Crime Proclamation Bill in Ethiopia that aims to prevent hate speech and dissemination of fake news, and a bill in the Cameroonian parliament that seeks to criminalise hate speech and tribalism.

The coalition also wants the Gambian government to revise the Gambia Media Services Bill which, they say, has been criticised for targeting the media.

In Nigeria, the Protection from Internet Falsehood and Manipulations Bill 2019 (seeking to regulate communications in cyberspace), and the National Commission for the Prohibition of Hate Speeches Bill 2019 (that seeks to establish an Independent National Commission for Hate Speech) were introduced.

Nigeria's Paradigm Initiative says they will continue with their awareness campaigns to demonstrate how unpopular the bills like the Internet Falsehood bill are.

"The National Assembly have shown that they are bent on passing this bill if you consider the speed at which the bill has passed the last two readings," says PI's Program Manager for Digital Rights, Adeboye Adegoke. "The National Assembly has a duty not to pass unpopular draft legislation and the ways to show that the draft legislation is unpopular among citizens is to ensure that citizens and stakeholders communicate their disapproval for the bill through the various means we have been doing that: calls, messages to senators etc."

Adegoke adds "... a public hearing will be held on the bill and if we fail to engage that process, then we have failed to organise and channel the anger and displeasure being expressed on the bill appropriately. The public hearing platform is the most veritable platform to kill the bill. This is why we are leading a campaign that is asking citizens not to miss that important element of engaging the proposed public hearing resoundingly. Campaigns create public awareness, help galvanise citizens and guide them on how to engage the process. One dangerous thing to do is to ignore (the) process.

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