Rwanda: freedom of press incriminated

By Ben Barugahare

In a statement Wednesday, RIB urged Rwandans to be wary of social media commentators seeking to “undermine national security” and the government.In this context, Rwanda Investigation Bureau declares having arrested Nsengimana Théoneste who possesses a YouTube tv called Umubavu and other five peoples who allegedly were attempting to disseminate rumors  encouraging uprising. The present article analyses this new tendency of RIB which risks to jail all journalists of media without allegiance to the regime.

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. Théoneste 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.

The arrest of those suspects apparently victims of opinion proves that Rwanda is far from respecting freedom of press and freedom of expression while its constitution recognizes those fundamental rights.

Political persecution disguised in judicial case files

The spokesperson of the RIB denies having considered political parties of the suspects before apprehending them but overtly their identifications indicate that all of them belong to the platform DALFA-Umurinzi founded by Ingabire Umuhoza Victoire and one of them named Sibomana Sylvain was secretary general of the FDU-Inkingi formerly headed by the same Ingabire Umuhoza Victoire. This contradiction is not random but it involves that by arresting a number of partisans of her political platform, the Rwandan regime is warning Ingabire Umuhoza Victoire that she is the next and this constitutes a sort of indirect intimidation.  

Offences imputed or arms of the regime against opponents

In the latest round-up Wednesday, police took six people into custody including Nsengimana Théoneste, the owner of Umubavu TV — a YouTube channel with over 16 million views, which has previously urged Rwandans to denounce human rights abuses allegedly instigated by the government against citizens.”They are an organized group with the intention to spread rumors intended to cause uprising or unrest among the population using different social media platforms,” Thierry Murangira, spokesman for the Rwanda Investigation Bureau (RIB), told AFP Thursday.

According to the law nº68/2018 determining offences and penalties in general in its Article 194, 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. 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.

Indeed, even if the RIB and the public prosecution rely on the criminal law none ignore that they are under injunction of the regime which seeks to muzzle opponents hiding behind the justice. Then, deprived from independence Rwandan judicial institutions are compelled to resort to the criminal law and sort out offences bordering on politics and whose penalties not less heavy. In this context, they qualify those political declaration as crimes against national security and fall on the offences mentioned above which are severely sanctioned while they can be easily imputed to someone deemed undesirable and they became an arm for the regime to track and punish opponents allegedly for crimes committed while they were just expressing opinions against the regime. Those six suspects join Idamange Yvonne and Karasira Aimable; Cyuma of Ishema TV and Agnes Nkusi are also threatened accused of broadcasting opinions of enemies of the country.

Besides, it is noteworthy to mention the number of viewers which probably worried the Kigali regime:16 million involves that many Rwandans and foreigners followed the channel and most of them may have been influenced by expressed ideas.This is why the high court refused to allow Idamange Iryamugwiza Yvonne to publically defend her position because they were fearing that she reproduces what she expressed on YouTube and the public would hear the truth which angers the regime.   

Attempt or conspiracy?

Per Article 21of the Rwandan law determining offences and penalties in general, an attempt is punishable when the intention to commit the offence has been demonstrated by one or more observable and unequivocal acts which constitute the beginning of the commission of the offence and leading to its execution, and that were suspended or failed in their purpose only because of circumstances beyond the offender’s control. An attempt to commit an offence is punishable even if the intended purpose could not be achieved because of factual circumstances unknown to the offender. An attempt to commit a felony or a misdemeanor is punishable with one half (1/2) the penalty for the felony or misdemeanor itself. For the offence punishable by the penalty of life imprisonment, the attempt is punishable by imprisonment for a term of twenty-five (25) years. An attempt to commit a petty offence is not punishable. Article 20 of the same law reads that  conspiracy to commit an offence is an agreement between two (2) or more persons to engage in the commission of an offence by any one or more of them. Conspiracy to commit an offence is punishable by the same penalty as the intended offence. Any person involved in conspiracy but who reports it to administrative authorities, judicial or security organs and disclose to them the names of involved criminals and their accomplices is exempted from the penalty prescribed for conspiracy if he/she reports it before the commission of the offence in respect of which conspiracy takes place.

The charges declared by the spokesperson of the RIB seems confusing given that the group members have not yet committed any crime among those imputed to them. Probably the investigations carried out detects some intention or some data they intended to broadcast. If they jointly planned those facts, this can be qualified as conspiracy to commit them but if the criminal participation is not retained, each one may be prosecuted for attempt to commit those offences.

Political opinions incriminated

Last month Yvonne Idamage, a 42-year-old mother of four, was convicted of six charges, sentenced to 15 years behind bars and fined the equivalent of $2,000 after she accused Kagame and his government of dictatorship.

Karasira Aimable former lecturer at University of Rwanda was dismissed for his opinions but the authorities allegedly charged him with professional faults and he was later on arrested and detained as his opinions were finally incriminated as genocide ideology; spreading false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause public disaffection against the Government of Rwanda; inciting the population to reject the established Government, or causing uprising in the population with intention to incite citizens against one another or disrupts the population with intention to cause unrest and other subjective crimes deliberately conceived to muzzle political opponents. in other words, any criticism against the Kigali regime is automatically qualified as an offence and the freedom of press and expression are maliciously and wickedly restricted thanks to this legal intimidation.

Rwanda, ruled by Kagame since the end of the 1994 has often come under fire for rights abuses and a crackdown on freedom of speech, critics and the opposition. If if the liberal media, that is to say those which does not support the Kigali regime, are targeted as part of the safeguarding of security, the Rwandan intellectuals will be forced to leave the country so as not to be deprived of their freedom of opinion; unless the state recruits them all and like «ntawe uvugana indya mu kanwa», they may comply with its deplorable governance. but in general people are on the brink of the blunders of this regime; this is why they dare to denigrate it fearlessly as the regretted Mandela did before the partisan justice of apartheid in the 1960s.