CIVICUS

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Rwanda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 20.06.2018 at 07:35

Rwanda Overview

While the rules governing civic space in Rwanda are relatively progressive, in practice civil society organisations and human rights defenders must operate within seriously confined boundaries if they are to avoid harassment or censure.

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Trial of Rwandan government critic Diane Rwigara postponed

Trial of Rwandan government critic Diane Rwigara postponed

The trial of former presidential candidate and government critic Diane Rwigara and her mother has been further delayed. Prosecutors have asked that four more people to be tried alongside the Rwigaras.

The human rights situation in Rwanda remains bleak. There are continued violations of citizens' fundamental freedoms, and the media and NGOs face various restrictions. Several cases of disappearances of political activists remain unresolved.

Association

The trial of former presidential candidate Diane Rwigara and her mother has been further delayed. Prosecutors have asked that four more people be tried alongside the Rwigaras.

As previously reported on the CIVICUS Monitor, Diane Rwigara and her mother, Adeline Rwigara, together with four others living abroad, were charged with “inciting insurrection or trouble among the population”. Diane Rwigara was also charged with “forging or alteration of documents” and “use of counterfeited documents”, and Adeline Rwigara faces an additional charge of “discrimination and sectarian practices”. Diana Rwigara believe the charges against her are politically motivated and she has been in detention since September 2017 - right after the presidential election. 

The trial which was set to begin in May 2018 has been adjourned till 24th July 2018 to allow the prosecution time to gather more evidence and locate the co-accused. The four individuals who allegedly assisted Diane have been identified as Tabitha Mugenzi, an aunt of Diane Rwigara who resides in Canada, Xaverine Mukangarambe and Jean Paul Turayishimiye in the U.S., and Edmund Musheija in Belgium.

Diane Rwigara is a human rights activist and a prominent critic of President Paul Kagame. She was barred from running in the August 2017 presidential elections.

According to Amnesty International, the charges brought against Diane Rwigara were based on comments she made publicly that were critical of the Rwandan state, including some made at a press conference to launch a new activist group, the People's Salvation Movement, on 14th July 2017.

Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, Great Lakes and the Horn Joan Nyanyuki said in regards to the case that:

“The Rwandan judiciary must ensure that this trial does not become just another means to persecute government critics, and Diane Rwigara and her co-accused must be guaranteed a fair and impartial trial…they must demonstrate that this trial is not being used to punish individuals for political dissent. Criticizing the government is not a crime”.

Peaceful Assembly

On 2nd May, 23 Congolese refugees at the Kiziba Camp were arrested after clashes erupted with Rwandan security forces. The violence left one protester dead and at least one other injured. Clashes began when refugees in the camp allegedly pelted visiting government officials with stones, prompting police to respond with tear gas and live ammunition. Refugees have reportedly been banned from interacting with the general public since 22nd February 2018, when protests over food rations left at least 11 dead.

Over 17,000 Congolese refugees live in the camp. Faced with dwindling assistance and food ration reductions, as humanitarian funding levels have hit a low point, camp residents began protesting in February 2018.

Association in Rwanda

The independence of civil society organisations in Rwanda is seriously compromised in practice – those that cooperate with the government can operate relatively freely, while those that do not face interference, harassment or closure.

The independence of civil society organisations in Rwanda is seriously compromised in practice – those that cooperate with the government can operate relatively freely, while those that do not face interference, harassment or closure. In 2016, there are few active human rights organisations in Rwanda and some of those that do exist have either been undermined by state intelligence infiltration or weakened by internal divisions. In October 2015, seven steering committee members of the remaining rights organisations, the Great Lakes Human Rights League (LDGL), were arrested and briefly detained. The LDGL’s acting Executive Secretary Epimack Kwokwo was arrested in 2015 and was continually harassed, including through threatening phone calls, because of his work to protect human rights defenders in Rwanda. Kwokwo was expelled from the country in May 2016. Civil society representatives surveyed in 2011 were generally positive about their experiences of registering an organisation, although some have criticised the requirement to reregister on an annual basis. Relatively enabling NGO laws passed in 2008 and 2012 are undermined by the imposition of excessively bureaucratic requirements for registration and limits on overhead spending by INGOs. Rwandan law does not impose any barriers on foreign funding of local CSOs.

Peaceful Assembly in Rwanda

While the Constitution protects the right to assemble in public, the law regulating this right requires that organisers give the authorities a month’s notice of their intention to gather.

While the Constitution protects the right to assemble in public, the law regulating this right requires that organisers give the authorities a month’s notice of their intention to gather. Spontaneous demonstrations are not provided for the in law. In practice, individuals often refrain from taking to the streets to demonstrate out of a fear of being arrested. As a result protests in Rwanda are rare, although demonstrations related to the Rwandan government’s actions are frequently organised by diaspora communities living in other countries in Africa and Europe. When protestors in Rwanda fall foul of the rules governing public assemblies, they are liable to be punished with a large fine or up to three years in jail.

Expression in Rwanda

There are substantial limitations on the right to free expression in Rwanda. Criticism of the government carries risks, and many journalists self-censor their reporting.

There are substantial limitations on the right to free expression in Rwanda. Criticism of the government carries risks, and many journalists self-censor their reporting. Journalists and media houses violating these unwritten rules are regularly targeted. In January 2016, investigative reporter John William Ntwali was arrested on trumped up charges and detained for 13 days. In 2014, his news website Ireme was hacked during a two-week period of attack on the media. In February 2016, the offices of The East African were raided by police who arrested one journalist and confiscated two computers. Foreign media also face restrictions in Rwanda. In October 2014, the authorities suspended BBC radio broadcasts within the country, a decision which was made indefinite at the end of May 2015. Fred Muvunyi, the head the Rwanda Media Commission fled the country saying he feared for his own safety after the commission argued with government over the BBC suspension. The ten year sentence imposed on singer Kizito Mihigo in 2015 highlighted that the private communications of people in Rwanda can be easily intercepted and read by the state. Mihigo was convicted of conspiracy to overthrow the government, and the content of WhatsApp and Skype messages sent to opposition critics in exile were used as key evidence. Despite attempts by the government to expand Internet access in Rwanda, penetration remained at just 11% in 2014, and the government blocked certain sites on the grounds that their content violated strict media laws or prohibitions on ‘genocide denial’.