Case of Nsengimana Théoneste and others: drifts of a dictatorship under diplomatic deadlock

Théoneste Nsengimana

By The Rwandan Lawyer

Rwandan investigation Bureau has recently arrested Nsengimana Theoneste and different members of Dalfa-Umurinzi, a political platform of Ingabire Umuhoza Victoire for a series of charges namely Formation of an irregular armed group or joining it; Spreading false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause a hostile international opinion against Rwandan Government; Causing uprising or unrest among the population.The audience dealing with their provisional detention took place last week; they all rejected the charges; the primary court of Kicukiro had scheduled the pronouncement of its ruling on Friday 5 November 2021 but it postponed it for Thursday 9 November 2021. Upon a deep analysis of allegations from the public prosecution, we find out that they are quite all based on pure suspicions of offences not yet perpetrated and deprived of proofs. Will the court be reasonable and release them? We doubt given that the Rwandan judiciary is often under control of the executive. 

Rwandan authorities have arrested six people including a journalist and members of an opposition party accused of publishing rumours allegedly intended to spark an uprising, the investigation bureau said on Thursday. Theoneste Nsengimana who runs Umubavu TV, an online channel that often airs content critical of the government, was among those arrested, said Rwanda Investigation Bureau spokesperson Thierry Murangira.“They are accused of publication of rumours intended to cause uprising or unrest among the population,” he said.”They have commonality, they are an organised group with the intention to spread rumours intended to cause uprising or unrest among the population using different social media platforms.”Nsengimana’s lawyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment.Others arrested include members and supporters of opposition leader Victoire Ingabire.“Members of DALFA-Umurinzi arrested again: We request RIB to ensure their rights are respected. We have not yet been informed the reasons behind their arrest,” Ingabire said on Twitter.On Tuesday, Nsengimana had posted on his YouTube channel a woman urging people to celebrate on “Ingabire day” on Thursday to honour opposition figures who have been jailed, kidnapped and killed.Critics say that Rwandan authorities have been cracking down on critical YouTube channels including one owned by former university lecturer Aimable Karasira, who was arrested in June and charged with denying the 1994 genocide. He denied the charge.Critics have accused President Paul Kagame’s government of human rights abuses although it has had support from Western donors for restoring stability in the years after the genocide, and boosting economic growth.Kagame denies accusations of abuse.

Formation of an irregular armed group or joining it 

According to article 200 of the law 68/2018 of 30/08/2018 determining offences and penalties in general, any person who by donations, remuneration, intimidation, abuse of power or promise of another interest, forms, incites or arranges for the formation of an irregular armed group or signs an agreement with this group for the purposes of supporting an armed attack of irregular forces, commits an offence. Up on conviction, he/she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than ten (10) years and not more than fifteen (15) years.  Any person who deliberately agrees to be hired or recruited to join an irregular armed force, commits an offence. Upon conviction, he/she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than seven (7) years and not more than ten (10) years.  The legal action against offences referred to in Paragraph One and 2 of this Article is instituted upon complaint or on the authorization of the Prosecutor General or the Military Prosecutor General, depending on their authors

The charge of founding a criminal association seems imaginary given that prosecution would hardly establish constitutive elements of this offence. Indeed, it is not unthinkable to consider any group gathered to attend a training as a criminal organization unless it is matter of trial of intent basing on the political platform to which most of them belong i.e. Dalfa-Umurinzi headed by Ingabire Victoire former chairperson of FDU-Inkingi. Besides, the investigation office and the public prosecution do not provide the intentional ingredient of the alleged offence of creating a criminal association since the pretended members did not disclose their name and their objectives, mission and vision.

Spreading rumors or false information 

Per article 194 of the criminal law above, any person who spreads false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause public disaffection against the Government of Rwanda, or where such information or propaganda is likely or calculated to cause public disaffection or a hostile international environment against the Government of Rwanda commits an offence. Upon conviction, he/she is liable, in wartime, to a term of life imprisonment. In peacetime, he/she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than seven (7) years and not more than ten (10) years.  

The Rwandan authorities accused those arrested of having “the intention to spread rumours intended to cause uprising or unrest among the population using different social media platforms”, a framing which has been used in the past to justify the arrest of critics and opposition voices. The qualification of rumors is firstly discussable because information disseminated is often obvious and the authorities just fear that the national public as well as the international community are aware of abuses they daily commit against the population while in reality all critics against it bad governance and abuses are globally qualified as rumors by the authorities and take advantage of the criminal provisions incriminating such facts.

Causing uprising or unrest among the population using different social media platforms

In accordance with Article 204 of the same law, any person who publicly, either by a speech, writings of any kind, images or any symbols, whether displayed, distributed, purchased or sold or published in any manner, incites the population to reject the established Government, or who causes uprising in the population with intention to incite citizens against one another or disrupts the population with intention to cause unrest in the Republic of Rwanda commits an offence.  Upon conviction, he/she is be liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than ten (10) years and not more than fifteen (15) years

None ignore that people who were residing in those areas of the Kigali city were victim of unlawful expropriation because they were chased from that locality without compensation of their destroyed houses and under influence of the regime courts to which they resorted did not grant them expected justice while they may have declared illegal such expropriations and therefore ordered the city of Kigali and the ministry of local government to duly pay the value of the lost property to those miserable populations who remain homeless victim of unjust policy impoverishing citizens. This case of land expropriation which does comply with laws and regulations previously occurred in Rwanda especially in Kiyovu area and all quarters nearing swamps where houses were brutally demolished traumatizing their occupants.

The accusation of “spreading rumours” has been repeatedly used to arrest critics, harming media freedom in the country and this contributes to restrict the freedom of press and right of expression enshrined by the Rwandan constitution of 2003 as revised in 2015 especially in its article 38. Without dwelling on other analysis, it clearly shows that Rwanda is going from bad to worse diplomatically due to different and multiple violations of human rights worries to stop any publication of critics. However, it will not succeed because, fed up by its daily drifts, revolutionaries emerge from the unhappy population and dare voice out the injustice they encounter endlessly.