Rwanda: The Court found the journalist Dieudonné Niyonsenga not guilty

By Arnold Gakuba

The judge in Gasabo Court in Kigali City declared innocent the journalist Dieudonné Niyonsenga nicknamed “Cyuma Hassan” who was serving YouTube Channel. The judge declared that his charges from the prosecution are full of doubts. Therefore, he ordered Niyonsenga to be released immediately. He was charged of three crimes including forgery of documents.  The verdict took place in the absence of the two parties. In the courtroom, there were only judges and journalists.  

The judge in Gasabo Court has reminded the three accusations of journalist Dieudonné Niyonsenga. The prosecution accused him the forgery of documents, pretending to be a professional journalist and obstructing the implementation of mandatory public decisions.

This took place on April 15, of the last year 2020, when Dieudonné Niyonsenga was arrested by the patrols and preventing to go to his work because the country was under lockdown of fighting against the spread of COVID-19. He told VOA that day that he was harassed by security forces.

The prosecution accused him of beating, hurting  and insulting officials which accusations were later changed. He was accused of refusing to go back home when he was arrested with his colleagues declaring that they were also journalists. 

The prosecution alleges him to forge unauthorized journalist’s cards for some people including Fidel Komezusenge while he had no journalist’s card and called himself a journalist.

The judge declares that Ishema TV he worked for is legally registered since 2019 at the National Revenue and Customs Authority and Rwanda Development Board (RDB). The court also declared that Niyonsenga was detained when he had a receipt of 20,000 frws he had paid to obtain his journalist card. It argues that the prosecution has proved no signs of forging cards to his colleagues and there is no clear evidence that all professional journalists are given cards by the Rwanda Media Commission “RMC”. The judge ruled that the allegations were baseless.

The judge, based on legal provisions, said that staying at home was not mandatory and those who did not observe it were likely to be fined. The judge declares that the defendant and his colleagues did not claim to be in the media profession because the court also confirmed that there were emissions held on YouTube. He said the card delivered by RMC was not the one to make them journalists. This is in line with the idea of Lawyer Gatera Gashabana stating that the prosecution should present factual evidence that his advocates had committed the crime. For him, everyone has the right to make his own announcements via the Youtube channel.

The court looked at the proceedings of both parties and concluded that the prosecution’s allegations were based on suspicion of all accusations against the Journalist Dieudonné Niyonsenga and his colleague Fidel Komezusenge. Based on legal provisions, the judge has explained that the doubt protects the defendant. Therefore, the court acquitted them and ordered their immediate release as soon as the verdict was read. He also ordered that the costs of the case to be kept in the state coffers.

As soon as he heard the court’s decision where he was sitting and listening, the journalist at the same time the Director of Umubavu TV Online and Theoneste Nsengimana immediately felt relaxed. He also spent a month in a police station accused of the similar crimes to those of Cyuma Hassan because he was also arrested during lockdown. He said ‘’this is an interesting decision’’. For the journalist John Willams Ntwali, the Director of IREMEnews.Net and IREME TV, Niyonsenga has always been innocent.

The prosecution had demanded that Hassan Dieudonné be sentenced to eight years of imprisonment and a fine of five million Rwandan francs while his colleague Fidel Komezusenge had to be sentenced to five years of imprisonment and a fine of three million Rwandan Francs.

International human rights organizations and advocates for journalists have often called for their release, stating that they have been imprisoned without crimes. Some attribute the arrest of Hassan Dieudonné to the fact that he was the only journalist to report having seen the injuries to the body of the late Kizito Mihigo. At the time of writing this article, we did not know whether the prosecution would accept the court’s decision or whether it would appeal.