Freedom of press increasingly martyred in Rwanda: CYUMA Hassan sentenced to 7 years 

Dieudonné Niyonsenga a.k.a Cyuma Dieudonné

By The Rwandan Lawyer

The owner of Ishema Tv was recently convicted of different charges allegedly committed during covid-19 confinement and sentenced to 7 years of imprisonment. As soon as the verdict was pronounced police members besieged his residence to arrest him for jail while he had appealed against the judicial decision.

A Rwandan dissident who used his YouTube channel to criticise the government has been sentenced to seven years in prison by a court in Kigali. Dieudonne Niyonsenga is just the latest government critic with a YouTube audience to be jailed in the tightly controlled East African nation, ruled by the same leader for nearly three decades.“We are appealing this verdict against Niyonsenga with immediate effect. It is simply not right,” his lawyer Gatera Gashabana said on Friday.Niyonsenga, whose YouTube channel Ishema TV had amassed more than 15 million views, was found guilty on Thursday on four charges including forgery, impersonation, and “humiliating” state officials.“The court finds that the crimes Niyonsenga is accused of were committed intentionally,” the judge said in delivering the verdict and a fine of five million Rwandan francs ($4,900). Niyonsenga was not present in court and shortly after the verdict, the YouTube star said police had surrounded his home.Police and prison officials have not confirmed whether Niyonsenga has been taken into custody.Niyonsenga, better known by his YouTube persona Cyuma, which means “Iron”, was known for discussing human rights abuses on his channel.In April 2020 he broadcast a series of videos accusing soldiers of serious abuses against slum dwellers during the enforcement of a strict coronavirus lockdown. Shortly afterward, he was arrested and charged with violating the lockdown and impersonating a journalist and sent to prison. He was acquitted and released 11 months later but prosecutors appealed to a higher court. His jailing comes weeks after another high-profile critic with a YouTube following was sent to prison.Yvonne Idamange, a mother of four, was jailed for 15 years in October for inciting violence online.Aimable Karasira, a university lecturer with a YouTube channel, was arrested in June and charged with genocide denial, a serious crime in Rwanda.He had accused the Rwandan Patriotic Front, which has ruled the country since 1994 under its leader Paul Kagame, of trampling on human rights.The crackdown on YouTube creators has had a chilling effect in Rwanda, where independent media has been quashed and other forms of free expression are strictly monitored by the government.One other YouTuber with a popular following told AFP a government official warned them to stop “this YouTube nonsense or face the consequences”.

Analysis

There is very far between the legal provisions governing the situation in which Cyuma Hassan was placed by the judgment and what did the law enforcers.

-Legal framework

The Rwandan law nº 027/2019 of 19/09/2019 relating to the criminal procedure especially in tis Article 186 establishes that if the accused who is free during the trial is sentenced to imprisonment, he or she remains free when he or she has filed an appeal against the judgement. However, the court can order his or her immediate arrest if the prosecution has provided sound reasons and parties have discussed such reasons. However, the court seized at appeal can order the detention of the accused if there are serious and exceptional reasons provided by the Public Prosecution regarding the summary proceeding

During the period of appeal and before the appellate court rules on the case, the suspect continues to be in the same state as the court ordered, until the appellate court decides otherwise

-More than 50 police officers and RIB staff at Cyuma’s

It is paradoxical that law enforcers are always infringing law. Aware that the appeal is suspensive and that execution of a judicial decision starts when the convict has no open remedies or did not introduce appeal and that the execution is justified by an enforceable act i.e a judgment copy holding an execution stamp, those numerous judicial staff hurried to arrest Cyuma without any enforceable judgment and without wondering whether he appealed.

-Qui pro quo

Cyuma Hassan  is officially punished for falsification of journalist’s card and violating rules established to curb covid-19 but really the Rwandan regime is punishing him for having allowed people criticizing Rwandan policies and violations of fundamental rights daily committed in the country against citizens notably unlawful expropriation which impoverish populations whose houses were demolished and chased from their lands without compensation; disappearances of opponents; assassinations incrimination of political criticisms and masquerade judgments jailing people for their opinions.

-Towards the end of opposition media

presumably, Rwanda is determined to end freedom of expression, as it had done for the print media or critical journals such as umuseso; umuvugizi; umurabyo(Kabonero Charles and Gasasira Jean Bosco); were suspended and their owners had to flee the country if they weren’t imprisoned(Agnes Nkusi and Saidati). For the moment, it seems to us that among the YouTubers who sent messages objectively criticizing the regime and who operate inside the country, there remains Uwimana Nkusi Agnes, owner of umurabyo tv who had already spent 5 years in prison.

Conclusion 

As known by any aware people, Cyuma is not jailed for those alleged offences but for having allowed people to freely express the injustice they encountered in this country. The judgment imprisoning him will contribute to muzzle him and reduce mediatic critics. Overtly, Rwandan regime fears criticisms while the latter may permit it to improve where there is a certain mismanagement. This violent reaction to media and infringement of the freedom of press as well as the right of expression are regrettable for a country selected to host the very next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) whose governing principles include rigorously those fundamental and political rights.

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