Human rights defenders
Human rights defenders worked in an increasingly challenging environment, facing intimidation and administrative interference.
In January, two former police officers were sentenced by Rubavu High Court to 20 years in prison for the murder of Gustave Makonene, Transparency International’s Rubavu co-ordinator, who was killed in 2013.
The Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR), an NGO, continued to face difficulties. LIPRODHOR members were electing a new executive committee on 5 September when police arrived and interrupted the meeting. On 21 November, a different new executive committee was elected.
On 12 October, the executive secretary of the regional NGO Human Rights League of the Great Lakes Region, headquartered in Rwanda, was taken in for questioning by the immigration services. Seven members of the newly elected executive council and oversight committee were also taken for questioning by police the next day. This took place in the context of a dispute over leadership of the organization.
Former prisoner of conscience Charles Ntakirutinka, who was released in March 2012 after 10 years in detention, continued to wait for a response to his request for a passport submitted in April 2012. Other former political prisoners and opposition political figures also continued to report difficulties obtaining travel documents.
Freedom of association
The Secretary-General of the opposition political party United Democratic Forces , Sylvain Sibomana, and another party member, Anselme Mutuyimana, remained in detention for inciting insurrection or trouble among the population after organizing a meeting in September 2012. The party complained about conditions of detention, reporting that Sylvain Sibomana was denied his medically prescribed diet from August and that party president Victoire Ingabire was temporarily refused access to her lawyer. The party vice-president Boniface Twagirimana was arrested on 4 December, and released the next day.
There was no progress in the case of Jean Damascène Munyeshyaka, national organizing secretary of the Democratic Green Party of Rwanda, who went missing on 27 June 2014.
Freedom of expression
Journalists continued to work in a difficult environment, with some employing self-censorship to avoid harassment.
On 29 May, the BBC Kinyarwanda services were indefinitely suspended by the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority following the recommendation of a committee of inquiry led by the former Prosecutor-General, Martin Ngoga. BBC services were originally suspended in Rwanda in October 2014 in response to the broadcast of the documentary Rwanda’s Untold Story, on the grounds that it violated Rwandan laws on genocide denial, revisionism, inciting hatred and divisionism.
Fred Muvunyi, chair of the Rwanda Media Commission, the media’s self-regulatory body, resigned in May and left the country, reportedly following a dispute over the handling of the BBC case, as well as criticisms contained in the Commission’s (unpublished) report on the state of the media in Rwanda.
The singer Kizito Mihigo was found guilty on 27 February of plotting against the government, forming a criminal group and conspiracy to commit an assassination. Evidence presented by the prosecution included WhatsApp and Skype messages. Having previously pleaded guilty and asked for pardon, Kizito Mihigo was sentenced to 10 years in prison. His co-accused Cassien Ntamuhanga, a journalist, and Jean Paul Dukuzumuremyi, a demobilized soldier, were sentenced to 25 and 30 years respectively. Agnes Niyibizi, an accountant, accused of being a treasurer for the Rwanda National Congress (a group of political dissidents in exile), was acquitted.
The military court trial of Colonel Tom Byabagamba, retired General Frank Rusagara and retired Sergeant François Kabayiza accused, among other charges, of inciting insurrection or trouble among the population and illegal possession of firearms, continued throughout the year. François Kabayiza claimed in court that he was tortured in detention. Tom Byabagamba and Frank Rusagara were relatives of David Himbara, a former presidential adviser now in exile. Retired captain David Kabuye, who was arrested by Rwandan military intelligence in August 2014, completed a six-month jail term in March 2015 for illegal possession of firearms. He was rearrested and later acquitted on new charges of inciting insurrection or trouble among the population and defamation. Just days before his acquittal, David Kabuye appeared as a prosecution witness in the case against Frank Rusagara. The trials were believed to be politically motivated.