Rwanda: Imprisoned Journalist Théoneste Nsengimana Announces Presidential Candidacy

On May 23, 2024, Théoneste Nsengimana, a journalist and the director of the newspaper Umubavu, currently imprisoned in Nyarugenge Prison in Mageragere on the outskirts of Kigali, declared his intention to run for the presidency of Rwanda in the July 2024 elections.

Nsengimana communicated his decision through a post on his social media account on platform X, stating:

“After nearly three years without trial, I, Théoneste Nsengimana, journalist and director of Umubavu, have decided to run for the presidency on May 23, 2024. I have written a letter to the management of Mageragere Prison requesting permission to fulfill the necessary requirements. The prison authorities have not yet responded.”

However, despite Nsengimana’s decision, Rwandan law does not permit his candidacy. According to Organic Law No. 001/2023.OL of November 29, 2023, which amends Organic Law No. 001/2019.OL of July 29, 2019, governing elections, Article 2 lists individuals temporarily barred from being on the electoral list. This includes those in pretrial detention, such as Nsengimana.

Moreover, Article 7 of the aforementioned law states that to be eligible as a candidate, a person must be on the electoral list. Consequently, Nsengimana cannot run for office as the law prohibits him from being included on the electoral list.

Political analysts in Rwanda suggest that Nsengimana’s announcement aims to highlight the plight of himself and his colleagues, who have been in pretrial detention for almost three years. They were arrested for their involvement in planning “Ingabire Day,” an annual event intended to honor politician Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza, leader of the DALFA-Umurinzi party. The event was to be held virtually.

Nsengimana’s situation underscores ongoing debates about legal and political freedoms in Rwanda, especially regarding the conditions and rights of those in pretrial detention.