CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Rwanda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 10.02.2021 at 10:46

The Civic Space Developments

view Civic Space Developments
Kizito Mihigo named as the first artist to receive prestigious human rights award posthumously

Kizito Mihigo named as the first artist to receive prestigious human rights award posthumously

Late gospel musician Kizito Mihigo who died in police custody in February 2020, was posthumously awarded the Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, an international award that celebrates artists working under extremely restrictive conditions; Tensions rise between the BBC and the government of Rwanda and its supporters. Following the BBC publishing an article entitled “The Loyalty Oath Keeping Rwandans Abroad in Check;” Rwandan Media Commission (RMC) announced plans to officially register YouTube channels that operate as media outlets

General Situation

Félicien Kabuga, one of the most wanted suspects in the 1994 genocide, who was arrested in France in May 2020 after spending two decades living under a false name, was transferred to The Hague, Netherlands. Kabuga is appearing before a judge of the trial chamber of the United Nations International Residual Mechanism for Criminal Tribunals, which is handling outstanding cases for Rwanda.

On 24th October 2020, Paul Rusesabagina, former manager of Hôtel des Mille Collines in Kigali, where he hid and protected Hutu and Tutsi refugees from the Interahamwe militia in 1994, was denied bail and ordered to remain in custody for a further 30 days. Rusesabagina has been charged with 13 offences, including terrorism and complicity in murder, for his alleged association with and financing of an armed movement - the National Liberation Front (NLF). He has also been an outspoken critic of President Paul Kagame. His family members are continuing their advocacy for him to be released and returned to the US, where he holds legal status. On 17th December 2020, Rusesabagina filed a lawsuit in Texas against the Greek charter company that operated the flight that took him to Rwanda, which he claims was a kidnapping operation in which the company was complicit. 

Expression

On 25th September 2020, late gospel musician Kizito Mihigo who died in police custody in February 2020, was posthumously awarded the Havel Prize for Creative Dissent, an international award that celebrates artists working under extremely restrictive conditions. This was the first time that the award was given posthumously. Mihigo’s death has still not been fully investigated despite international calls for an independent review of the circumstances. As previously reported on the Monitor, Mihigo, a popular singer and activist, was found dead in his cell with police alleging suicide, a claim which was refuted by civil society.

Tensions have been building between the BBC and the government of Rwanda and its supporters. Following the BBC publishing an article entitled “The Loyalty Oath Keeping Rwandans Abroad in Check,” on 18th November 2020, Rwandan news outlets ran several pieces accusing the BBC of sensationalism and making false and misleading allegations. According to the article by the BBC, members from the Rwandan diaspora were subjected to oathing ceremonies while abroad, in what seemed to point to an aggressive global crackdown on dissent by the Rwandan government.

On 18th December 2020, the Rwandan Media Commission (RMC) announced plans to officially register YouTube channels that operate as media outlets, for what they say is meant to increase accountability. The registration process costs RWF 50,000 ($52) and requires owners to prove that they are trained journalists. The plans were met with concern from many bloggers and advocates of free speech. Some suggested that the plans would contradict the law regulating media in Rwanda, concerning the right to information through the internet. On 30th December 2020, the RMC backtracked and suspended the registration of YouTube channels after several complaints from bloggers.

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’.