Hakuzimana Abdul Rashid; Nsengimana Theo and others: the freedom of expression between the devil and the deep sea in Rwanda

Abdul Rachid Hakuzimana

By Ben Barugahare

According to  article 38 of the Rwandan  Constitution of 2003 as revised in 2015, freedom of press, of expression and of access to information are recognized and guaranteed by the State; freedom of expression and freedom of access to information shall not prejudice public order, good morals, the protection of the youth and children, the right of every citizen to honor and dignity and protection of personal and family privacy. Officially, the country allows people to voice out their opinions throughout media and other channels of communication and this prerogative was largely carried out these days where social networking websites such as twitter; YouTube; facebook facilitated TVs and radios to reach a large public on international and national levels. There is then wondered whether the Rwandan state really recognizes this right of expression given the number deplorably increasing of people arrested, detained and sentenced for their opinions. The present article strives to analyze the real applicability of the freedom of press, of expression and of access to information in Rwandan law.

Rwandan authorities have arrested nine people linked to an opposition party and a journalist in the last week, as they intensify their crackdown on opponents and critics, Human Rights Watch said. The crackdown appears connected to an event, “Ingabire Day,” organized by the unregistered opposition party Dalfa-Umurinzi, that had been scheduled for October 14, 2021, to discuss among other things political repression in Rwanda. Théoneste Nsengimana, a journalist who had intended to cover the event and host a discussion on his YouTube channel with Victoire Ingabire, the party’s leader, was arrested on October 13. Several party members and regional representatives — Sylvain Sibomana, Alexis Rucubanganya, Hamad Hagengimana, and Jean-Claude Ndayishimiye — were also arrested at their homes on October 13, as was Joyeuse Uwatuje, Ingabire’s close friend and personal assistant. According to sources within the Dalfa-Umurinzi party, Alphonse Mutabazi was arrested on the morning of October 14, and Marcel Nahimana, the party’s secretary-general, and Emmanuel Masengesho were arrested the evening of October 14. Régine Kadoyimana, an administrative assistant in the party, was arrested on October 16 at her home in the capital, Kigali. The Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) announced in a tweet late on October 13 that Nsengimana and five other unnamed people had been placed under arrest for “publication of rumours intended to cause uprising or unrest among the population.” It also tweeted a warning against those who use social media to “undermine national security” and “incite divisions.” The agency has not made any public announcements about the four other arrests. According to sources within the Dalfa-Umurinzi party, the ten were arrested in different parts of the country, but all except Kadoyimana, the last one arrested, are now being held at Remera police station in Kigali. Kadoyimana is reportedly detained at Kicukiro police station, but Human Rights Watch was not able to independently confirm this. The RIB spokesperson did not respond to Human Rights Watch’s requests for information. All have been given access to a lawyer. On October 18, a RIB agent called Ingabire to summon her to the investigation bureau’s headquarters in Kigali, but at time of publication she had not yet been. Ingabire, the former president of the unregistered opposition party FDU-Inkingi before creating Dalfa-Umurinzi in November 2019, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for conspiracy to undermine the established government and denying the genocide after she tried to contest the 2010 presidential elections. She was eventually pardoned and released in September 2018. Sibomana, the FDU-Inkingi’s then-secretary-general, was first arrested alongside another member of the party, Anselme Mutuyimana, in 2012 and accused of holding an illegal meeting in a bar. Mutuyimana was released in 2018 but found dead in mysterious circumstances in March 2019. Sibomana was released in 2021.Nsengimana was previously arrested in April 2020, alongside three other bloggers and a driver, all working with Rwandan YouTube channels that reported on the impact of the Covid-19 guidelines on vulnerable populations. Charges were brought against Nsengimana, Dieudonné Niyonsenga, known as “Cyuma Hassan,” the owner of Ishema TV, and his driver, Fidèle Komezusenge. Nsengimana was held in pretrial detention on accusations of fraud but released in May 2020 for lack of evidence.

Besides, Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB) on Thursday confirmed the arrest of Rashid Abdul Hakuzimana, who is being investigated for allegedly denying and minimizing the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. He also faces charges of inciting public insurrection. RIB spokesperson, Thierry B Murangira confirmed the suspect has been arrested over the crimes he allegedly committed on various occasions through his interviews on the social media platform YouTube. According to RIB, the decision to detain him was taken after warning him to stop these declarations, a warning he never heeded. Murangira advised the public to use social media platforms in a proper and responsible manner. He said that RIB has no problem with everyone who uses social media sites to reach out to more people in a way that benefits society adding that even the institution uses social media to deliver messages to different people. However, he said that they will not tolerate anyone using any social media channel to spread hate speech, rumors or words that can provoke divisionism, cause intimidation and chaos in the public. The suspect is currently being held at Kicukiro RIB Station while the investigation is ongoing. He said the case is being processed before being submitted to prosecution as per the law. In many of the declarations recently made by Hakuzimana include assertions that there was double genocide in Rwanda. He recently said that there was no need to commemorate the Genocide against the Tutsi if everyone who was killed was not being commemorated..

These blatantly arbitrary and politically motivated arrests are intended to further discourage people from speaking out against government policy or abuse and laws into force somehow cover them implicitly.

Vague laws favoring injustice

Rwandan law includes overly broad and vague provisions that enable arbitrary limitations on free speech and that violate the right to freedom of expression and media freedom protections under international law. the first legal text which seems vague and permitting subjective arbitrariness is the constitution in its article 38 quoted above whereby freedom of press and right of expression can be judged prejudicing  public order, good morals, the protection of the youth and children, the right of every citizen to honor and dignity and protection of personal and family privacy. Indeed, issues of public order; good morals; dignity; etc. are legally defined and remain vague and therefore exposing people expressing their opinions to a series of incriminations based on subjective speculations from the investigative and prosecutorial organs when the regime feels offended by the critical messages diffused. Besides, believing that they are exercising their fundamental rights of expression, citizens freely speak putting aside those constitutional vague limitations and are easily they are easily accused of crimes that only the prosecution knows how to qualify in its wicked discretion. The other law used to curb free speech is the Law on the Prevention of Cybercrimes, which prohibits the publication of “rumors,” punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of up to three million Rwandan Francs (US$3,000).However, whether information is factual does not in itself constitute legitimate grounds to criminalize speech under international law. These charges are wholly inappropriate and underline how the justice system is being used as a tool to stifle dissent and intimidate the public, Human Rights Watch said. All ten people arrested should be immediately and unconditionally released. Besides, when unable to control some journalists, the regime hides behind the vagueness of the definition of journalist to chase those who do not comply with its line. Thus, Niyonsenga and Komezusenge were accused of forgery, impersonating journalists, and hindering public works but both were acquitted on March 12, 2021. The prosecution appealed the acquittal, and the hearing is expected in November. On October 14, the Rwanda Media Commission issued a statement claiming that Niyonsenga is not a journalist. Rwanda’s narrow definition of journalists as “a person who possesses basic journalism skills and who exercises journalism as his/her first profession” runs counter to international standards and has allowed the government to prosecute bloggers doing important public interest reporting, Human Rights Watch said. 

Manufactured crimes

Taking advantage of the limitation clauses which which are inserted in different laws where a right is granted and at the same time refused, investigative organ, the prosecution and even courts seize the occasion to unduly prosecute and convict people who dared criticizing the regime by charging them with crimes bordering on politics such as  publication of rumors intended to cause uprising or unrest among the population; use social media to undermine national security” and incite divisions; genocide ideology; genocide denial; double genocide ideology; Rebellion against the authority; formation of or joining a criminal association; membership in a seditious; conspiracy against the Republic established Government or the President; causing uprising or unrest Article 205 among the population; treason; Spreading false information against Rwandan Government cause a hostile international opinion or harmful propaganda with intent to cause a hostile international opinion.

It is in this context that are now detained or sentenced a number of opinion victims: Dr Kayumba Christopher arrested and detained for having allegedly committed rape after having expressed criticisms against the governance of Rwanda in economic and political fields whereby he accused the regime officials  to increase external debts for their own interests; violating human rights of citizens and of course having created an opposition political party.  Online commentators, such as Yvonne Idamange and Aimable Karasira, have also used their videos to discuss the 1994 genocide, the crimes committed by the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) in its aftermath, and the government’s commemorations of the killings. Idamange, a Tutsi genocide survivor who accused the government of monetizing the genocide and called for a protest, was found guilty, in a trial held behind closed doors, of inciting violence and public uprising, denigrating genocide artifacts, spreading rumors, and violent assault, among other charges on September 30. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison. On May 31, Karasira was arrested on charges including denying and justifying the genocide and instigating divisions, and has not yet been tried.

Is the death penalty really abolished

Rwanda is the first country in the Great Lakes region to abolish the death penalty and strongly confirmed the worldwide trend to end capital punishment by becoming the 100th country to abolish the death penalty in law, with another 30 countries abolitionist in practice. Fourteen countries in Africa, including Rwanda, are abolitionist for all crimes and a further 18 are abolitionist in practice. Indeed,  the Organic Law n° 31/2007 of 25/07/2007 relating to the abolition of the death penalty in its article 2 which reads: the death penalty is hereby abolished.

Unfortunately, people who are arrested for political crimes are often killed in a kind of extrajudicial execution. Thus, a number of peoples were killed while in the hands of judicial institutions. Dr Emmanuel Kasakure cardiologist and former personal medical doctor of President Kagame was shot while allegedly attempting to disarm a guard.; Alfred Nsengimana former Executive secretary of cyuve sector in Musanze district  was shot and killed while in police custody; A popular Rwandan rapper known as Jay Polly died in custody really injected with deadly substance; Kizito Mihigo the renowned gospel singer was unlawfully killed in their custody and Rwandan authorities have not conducted a credible and transparent investigation into the suspicious death   in police custody. In April 2018, the police said that Donat Mutunzi ,a lawyer allegedly hanged himself in his cell   at Ndera Police Station 10 days after he was arrested. According to reports, the autopsy revealed severe wounds on his face  and temples. Me Toy NTABWOBA NZAMWITA, 49, father of, 4 assassinated on 30th December 2016. In all the reports that we have read about this sad affair, they talk about the proximity to the Kigali Business Center (KBC) roundabout and the Kigali Convention Center (KCC), but there is no detail on the direction of Mr. Nzamwita’s vehicle or even where he was shot and where his vehicle stopped.

Outside the judicial institutions many people being killed by rwandan police or army :6 victims in north, extra judicial killings in Western & Northern provinces between November & December 2016. Victims include Musonera Samson (22), Bizabarimana J. Claude (25), Nshimiyimana Innocent, Balinda Elie (50) & Nzabonimana J. Claude (21). VOA reported this issue.The many prisoners who were shot in 2016, victims include Channy Mbonigaba, Nkundimana Clement, Olivier MBYARIYEHE, Theophile NAKABEZA, Muhammad MUGEMANGANGO.Recently,3 men were shot dead at Rushaki for allegedly importing kanyanga drinks from Uganda.The list is not exhaustive.

Overtly, there is far between the laws and their implementation in Rwanda given that legal texts authorize citizens to speak out their views and after doing so they are severely punished either by courts or by security forces and for the latter all blows are allowed. Indeed, there are reported numerous cases of arbitrary arrests, detentions, prosecutions, killings, torture, enforced disappearances, threats, harassment, and intimidation against government opponents and critics in Rwanda and  «the Rwandan government’s latest crackdown underscores that it is unwilling to tolerate debate and criticism,» said Lewis Mudge, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch. Who will save us from this hell.