CIVICUS

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Rwanda

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Last updated on 15.01.2019 at 08:31

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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Diane Rwigara Acquitted of Charges as Opposition Figure "Disappears" from Prison

Diane Rwigara Acquitted of Charges as Opposition Figure "Disappears" from Prison

Association

Rwandan activist Diane Rwigara and her mother were released on bail on 5th October 2018. Among the bail conditions, the Rwigaras were asked to seek permission to leave Kigali and also submit their travel documents to the authorities. On 6th December, the high court in Kigali acquitted Rwigara and her mother of charges of inciting insurrection and forgery.

as previously documented, the two had spent over a year in jail after Diane was barred from running in presidential elections against incumbent President Paul Kagame, on charges largely decried as politically-motivated. The country’s chief prosecutor has said he will appeal the decision.

On 7th October 2018, opposition party FDU-Inkingi's deputy leader Boniface Twagirimana, “disappeared” from Mpanga prison in southern Rwanda after supposedly jumping the fence with another inmate shortly after being transferred to a new prison. Party members, however, cried foul, alleging that Twagirimana was abducted and driven away in a state prison vehicle – his family has also expressed doubts over the official account of his disappearance. Recently released party leader Victoire Ingabire was summoned for questioning by the Rwanda Investigations Bureau in connection to the disappearance.

On 7th December, the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights ordered the Rwandan government to pay Ingabire USD $61,000 in compensatory damages for the suffering she endured in prison. It ruled that Ingabire suffered material and moral injury as a result of rights violation. The court rejected her application to have her criminal record cleared and be refunded for expenses she incurred while in detention. As previously reported in the Monitor, Ingabire was released on 15th September after being sentenced to 15 years in prison in 2012, in a trial described as politically motivated by international civil society organisations.

Expression

On 21st November, BBC journalist Phocas Ndayizera was arrested in Kigali by Rwandan security forces, who did not publicly disclose the arrest for a week. Ndayizera was accused of receiving explosives and plotting with terrorists, and faces 20 years in prison if found guilty. In June 2015 the BBC Kinyarwanda radio service was suspended indefinitely following the broadcast of a documentary on the genocide, a topic which remains controversial for the media to cover.

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’.