CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Rwanda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 11.03.2021 at 07:53

The Civic Space Developments

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Crackdown on critics continues

Crackdown on critics continues

On 5th March 2021, YouTube activist Yvonne Idamange Iryamukwiza was arraigned in a court in Kigali. Idamange Iryamukwiza is facing six charges, including 'spreading rumours using technology', 'contempt for genocide memorials' and 'obstruction of the implementation of government policies' among other charges

General situation

On 25th January 2021, United Nations member states criticised Rwanda’s human rights record during the country’s third Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, receiving 284 recommendations from 99 countries. A number of UN member states called on Rwanda to protect freedom of expression, including by reforming its media laws and allowing journalists and activists to work independently. Several CSOs, including DefendDefenders and CIVICUS, made stakeholder submissions to the UN Human Rights Council ahead of Rwanda's examination.

Expression

On 5th March 2021, YouTuber Yvonne Idamange Iryamukwiza was arraigned in a court in Kigali. She is facing six charges, including 'spreading rumours using technology', 'contempt for genocide memorials' and 'obstruction of the implementation of government policies', among other charges. She was arrested on 15th February 2021, reportedly in relation to a video in which she criticised the Rwandan government and president Paul Kagame. 

Association

On 17th February 2021, the trial of the former manager of Kigali’s Hôtel des Mille Collines and government critic Paul Rusesabagina started. Rusesabagina is charged with 13 offences, including terrorism-related charges, and faces 25 years in prison if found guilty. Fears exist that Rusesabagina will not receive a fair trial. Controversy exists over how Rusesabagina, who lived in exile, arrived in Kigali before he was arrested. In an interview with AlJazeera, Justice Minister Johnston Busingye admitted that the Rwandan government paid for the flight that took Rusesabagina to Kigali. Additionally, in an excerpt accidently shared with AlJazeera, Busingye also admitted that prison authorities intercepted privileged communication between Rusesabagina and his lawyer.

On 21st February 2021, opposition politician Seif Bamporiki was shot dead in South Africa, where he had been living in exile. South African police suspect the motive for the murder was robbery, but Bamporiki's party, the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), said that the killing resembled previous assassinations. Former Rwandan intelligence chief Patrick Karegeya was found strangled in a hotel room in Johannesburg in 2014. 

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’.