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.read more
In a rare development, two Green Party opposition candidates were elected to parliament for the first time during parliamentary elections that were held on 5th September 2018. Another small party, PS Imberakuri, also won two seats for the first time. However, the ruling Rwanda Patriotic Front (RPF) party retains a majority, amid accusations that it has for years stifled, harassed, and jailed opposition figures.
#Rwanda's President Paul Kagame has decided to commute the sentences of jailed opposition leader, Victoire #Ingabire, and singer Kizito #Mihigo, alongside early release of ~2,140 eligible convicts https://t.co/ScjjXPXfzO— Erin Jessee (@erinjessee) September 15, 2018
On 15th September 2018, two thousand, one hundred and forty (2,140) prisoners were released, including jailed opposition leader Victoire Ingabire of the FDU-Inkingi political party, and gospel musician Kizito Mihigo. Ingabire returned from exile in 2010 to run for president, but was arrested within a few months and accused of undermining the government and genocide denial. In 2012, she was sentenced to 15 years in prison, in a trial described as politically motivated by international civil society organisations. After her release, Ingabire called for the release of other political prisoners, while President Paul Kagame responded by warning the newly released prisoners to be "humble" and "careful" or they would return to jail.
Gospel musician Mihigo, was arrested in 2014 after he released a song about the 1994 genocide. He later pleaded guilty to conspiring to kill president Kagame, among other crimes, although civil society groups reported that he had been beaten and coerced to make the confessions.
On 10th August 2018, the observatory for human rights in Rwanda reported the disappearance of Jean de Dieu Ndamira, a Rwandan citizen, who had been sharing stories of his life on social media and on websites such as the Rwandan Media Network. He shared these stories regularly from January 2018, however, on 9th March 2018, two days after he shared his last story, he disappeared and has not been heard from since. While his stories were widely well received by his audience, it is reported that some readers often accused him of exposing ‘family secrets’. On 2nd March, Ndamira left Nairobi for Rwanda to renew his passport. While in Kigali, he shared another one of his stories, which was published on 7th March. On 9th March, he communicated with his confidant to whom he confirmed that his passport had been renewed and that he was immediately travelling back to Nairobi. However, that was the last time Ndamira was heard from. According to reports, it is believed that he may have been detained by Rwandan authorities because of his writing, which has been considered by some pro-government critics to be against the Rwandan government.
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.
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.
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’.