Concerns Raised Over the Disappearance and Harassment of Rwandan Journalist Theoneste Nsengimana

Théoneste Nsengimana

On June 1, 2024, a message was posted on the X account of Theoneste Nsengimana, a Rwandan journalist who recently announced his intention to run for president. According to the account, Nsengimana’s wife, Umwali Chantal, sent family members to visit him at Nyarugenge Prison in Mageragere due to her unavailability. Despite registering and waiting multiple times, they were unable to see him. Fellow inmates reported that Nsengimana had been missing for days, raising suspicions of possible torture. This situation followed his request to campaign for the presidential election, which some believe is an attempt to intimidate and harm him.

Another update on June 2, 2024, detailed Umwali Chantal’s attempt to visit Nsengimana, only to be turned away again. Despite assurances from prison staff, she was unable to see him, further fueling concerns about his safety and whereabouts.

The Observatoire des droits de l’homme au Rwanda (ODHR) issued a statement on June 3, 2024, in Paris, signed by its president Laurent Munyandirikirwa. The statement, titled “Continued Harassment of Journalist Theoneste Nsengimana – Forced Disappearance in Prison and Harassment of His Wife Umwali Chantal and Family,” outlines two key points:

Forced Disappearance of Journalist Theoneste Nsengimana:

Information from Nsengimana’s relatives and other sources indicates that the journalist, detained at Mageragere Prison for nearly three years, is missing. Reports suggest he was forcibly taken to an unknown location. His last visit from his wife was on May 25, 2024, during which he mentioned fears of being starved to death. Subsequent attempts to visit him on June 1 and 2 were unsuccessful. This disappearance is linked to his letter requesting permission to campaign for the presidential election, which remains unanswered. Nsengimana, owner of Umubavu TV, has faced constant harassment, including his arrest on October 13, 2021, without a formal trial date set.

Harassment of Nsengimana’s Wife and Family:

Umwali Chantal, Nsengimana’s wife, was fined three million Rwandan Francs on April 30, 2024, for attempting to visit her husband. She was accused of using a forged COVID-19 test result, a charge she explained was due to financial constraints. Her co-accused, Ihorahabona Jean de Dieu, also faced the same fine. The ODHR expressed concern over this and the broader pattern of harassment faced by Nsengimana’s family and urged authorities to address these human rights violations.

The ODHR calls on Rwandan authorities to ensure Nsengimana’s safety and permit family visits. They urge cessation of harassment and torture of Nsengimana and his family. The ODHR also appeals to international human rights organizations and diplomatic missions to advocate for Nsengimana’s family and uphold press freedom and the right to information