Journalist Jean Paul Nkundineza Sentenced in Rwanda for Public Insults and Defamation

In Kigali, Rwanda, on the afternoon of Thursday, April 18th, 2024, journalist Jean Paul Nkundineza was sentenced to three years in prison and fined 1.1 million Rwandan Francs by the Nyarugenge Primary Court. The court found Nkundineza guilty of public insults and defamation, stemming from his comments and broadcasts involving former Miss Rwanda, Jolly Mutesi.

The Rwandan Prosecution Authority had charged Nkundineza with two offenses: spreading false information and harassing an informant. These charges were based on various segments aired on YouTube where Nkundineza allegedly targeted Mutesi, Miss Rwanda 2016. The prosecution argued that Nkundineza deliberately spread false information to undermine Mutesi’s reputation among the public and to defame her, asserting these actions were part of a premeditated plan to disseminate misinformation.

In his defense, Nkundineza admitted to making the statements but contended that some of the content he aired was in response to questions posed by fellow journalists during prepared segments. His legal representatives, including Jean Paul Ibambe, argued that Nkundineza had not broadcast false information and suggested that any errors he made were professional mistakes, not criminal actions. They highlighted that some content had been removed by the channels in question.

During the trial, the judge noted that the accusations against Nkundineza were based on his activities following the legal pursuit of Prince Kid, who previously managed the Miss Rwanda competition. The judge found that Nkundineza’s numerous broadcasts from 2022 had targeted Mutesi, insinuating her involvement in a conspiracy to incarcerate the former competition head.

The judge declared that Nkundineza’s actions constituted multiple criminal offenses, including public insults and harassment of an informant. The court’s decision was based on legal statutes, taking into account the severity of the offenses, the impact on the victims, Nkundineza’s personal background, and his general conduct.

Jean Paul Nkundineza, who had worked with various media outlets and most recently on YouTube, joins several other journalists currently imprisoned in Rwanda, including Theoneste Nsengimana of Umubavu.Com and Umubavu TV, Dieudonne Niyonsenga, also known as Cyuma Hassan of Ishema TV, Fidel Gakire Uzabakiriho of Ishema Newspaper, and Phocas Ndayizera, a former occasional collaborator with the BBC. These journalists are held on various charges.

This case adds another layer to the ongoing discourse about press freedom in Rwanda under President Paul Kagame’s administration, which has been frequently criticized for its handling of journalists and media operations.