CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Rwanda

Live rating: Repressed

Last updated on 06.07.2021 at 15:10

The Civic Space Developments

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Ongoing persecution of critics and journalists arrested

Ongoing persecution of critics and journalists arrested

On 25th May 2021, opposition leaders Victoire Ingabire and Bernard Ntaganda criticised French President Emmanuel Macron for overlooking the human rights violations by the Rwandan regime. The opposition leaders claimed that Macron remains silent regarding Rwanda’s dictatorial rule but condemns other authoritarian regimes. As previously reported by the Monitor, Paul Rusesabagina, the former manager of Kigali’s Hôtel des Mille Collines faces nine offences including membership in a terrorist group and financing terrorism. On 18th June 2021, the prosecutor asked for a life sentence. Rusesabagina has not shown up for his trial since 12th March 2021, when the court rejected his request to have six months to prepare his defence. He cited that he “does not expect justice” as the reason for abandoning the process.

Association

Persecution for human rights violation critics

On 25th May 2021, opposition leaders Victoire Ingabire and Bernard Ntaganda criticised French President Emmanuel Macron for overlooking the human rights violations by the Rwandan regime. The opposition leaders claimed that Macron remains silent regarding Rwanda’s dictatorial rule but condemns other authoritarian regimes. As previously reported by the Monitor, Paul Rusesabagina, the former manager of Kigali’s Hôtel des Mille Collines faces nine offences including membership in a terrorist group and financing terrorism. On 18th June 2021, the prosecutor asked for a life sentence. Rusesabagina has not shown up for his trial since 12th March 2021, when the court rejected his request to have six months to prepare his defence. He cited that he “does not expect justice” as the reason for abandoning the process.

Expression

Freelance journalists sentenced to 10 years in prison

On 3rd May 2021, Human Rights Watch reported that Dieudonné Niyonsenga’s reporting on alleged military abuses has continued to cause him trouble since his release. As previously reported in the Monitor, Dieudonné Niyonsenga was freed on 13th March 2021 after the Gasabo Intermediate Court acquitted him of all charges. On 6t May 2021, seven men including Phocas Ndayizera, a freelance journalist were sentenced to 10 years in prison by the high court. Ndayizera was arrested in November 2018 with 12 other defendants and charged with terrorism. During his trial in October 2020, his lawyer claimed that Ndayizera was initially questioned in connection with his work as a journalist and his association with the BBC. In 2018, three journalists and a human rights defender alleged that his arrest was related to his work with BBC Rwanda. The Rwandan Investigation Bureau denied these allegations.

On 23rd May 2021, Cassien Ntamuhanga, an exiled journalist, was allegedly arrested by 10 plain-clothed officers who handed him over to the Rwandan embassy in Maputo. The officers confiscated his belongings including a laptop, phone, documents, refugee card and passport. The Mozambique Centre for Democracy Development fears that he has been extradited to Rwanda. Cassien Ntamuhanga, journalist and director of the confessional radio station Amazing Grace, was sentenced to 25 years in prison for conspiring against the government following a trial that started in 2014. He managed to flee to Mozambique in 2017 and has been living in exile.

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’.