CIVICUS

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Rwanda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 16.10.2020 at 10:39

The Civic Space Developments

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Rwandan government continues to target opposition in exile.

Rwandan government continues to target opposition in exile.

New details emerged in late-August 2020 related to the disappearance of Benjamin Rutabana, a member of the Rwandan National Congress ; Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan opposition figure and outspoken critic living in Europe, was arrested and detained by Rwandan authorities; University of Rwanda dismisses Aimable Karasira, a computer science lecturer, for political posts on his YouTube channel.

The Rwandan government and authorities have continued to promote tough measures, such as surveillance and tracking, in dealing with persons deemed to be flouting COVID-19-related restrictions. This is despite recent international criticism of police violence against civilians in the past months when imposing the lockdown, as previously reported on the Monitor

Association

New details emerged in late-August 2020 related to the disappearance of Benjamin Rutabana, a member of the Rwandan National Congress – a Rwandan opposition party in exile. Rutabana has been missing since September 2019, after last being seen travelling from Brussels, Belgium to Kampala, Uganda. Ugandan authorities have repeatedly denied having Rutabana in their custody. However, a recent interview with a Rwandan soldier, who recently deserted, stated that Rutabana was killed after being handed over to Rwandan authorities.

Separately, on 1st September 2020, Paul Rusesabagina, a Rwandan opposition figure and outspoken critic living in Europe, was arrested and detained by Rwandan authorities. Rusesabagina is most known for protecting over 1,200 refugees during the Rwandan genocide, which was portrayed in the film ‘Hotel Rwanda’. An international arrest warrant was issued for Rusesabagina, who is accused of being the "founder, leader and sponsor of violent, armed, extremist terror outfits." President Paul Kagame has denied that he was kidnapped, instead stating that Rusesabagina arrived in Rwanda voluntarily. Concerns are already being raised about the fairness of the trial, with Rusesabagina’s family stating on 9th September that they were shocked to find a lawyer claiming to publicly represent him without their notification. On 14th September, Rusesabagina was formerly charged with terrorism and murder offences related to attacks by a rebel group. He denied all charges. On 15th October 2020, his foreign lawyers reported that their efforts to speak to him were frustrated by authorities after they unsuccessfully tried to get required clearance from the Rwanda Bar Association to be allowed to see their client.

Expression

On 14th August 2020, the University of Rwanda dismissed Aimable Karasira, a computer science lecturer, for political posts on his YouTube channel. The dismissal letter sent to Karasira stated that his political videos were controversial and countered professional values, ethics and obligations.

In other developments, more than six months after the death of Rwandan singer Kizito Mihigo in police custody, authorities are yet to hold a transparent investigation into his death. At the time of his death, as previously reported on the Monitor, authorities reported that Mihigo had “strangled himself”, however he had reported in the days before his arrest that he was at serious risk of being killed by state agents.

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’.