The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government at times restricted these rights. The government intimidated and arrested journalists who expressed views it deemed critical on sensitive topics or who it believed had violated the law or journalistic standards. Numerous journalists practiced self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately on some topics. Laws prohibiting divisionism, genocide ideology, and genocide denial continued to discourage citizens from expressing viewpoints that might be construed as promoting societal divisions. The law prohibits the propagation of ideas based on “ethnic, regional, racial, religious, language, or other divisive characteristics.” Public incitement to “genocide ideology” or “divisionism,” which includes discrimination and sectarianism, is punishable by five to nine years in prison and fines of 100,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($151 to $1,510). The 2012 penal code expanded former provisions that prohibited the display of contempt for the head of state or other high-level public officials to include administrative authorities or other public servants, with sentences of one to two years in prison and fines of 50,000 to 500,000 Rwandan francs ($76 to $760). Slander of foreign and international officials and dignitaries remains illegal, with sentences of one to three years in prison. The 2012 penal code revised the crime of “spreading rumors aimed at inciting the population to rise against the regime” to “spreading false information with intent to create a hostile international opinion against the Rwandan state,” with much more severe penalties, including life in prison for acts committed during wartime and seven to 10 years in prison for acts committed during peacetime.
In September police arrested and subsequently tortured two students after they presented a petition to the Office of the Prime Minister protesting the introduction of tuition fees for university students. The students were released after a week in detention, and police failed to investigate their claims of torture (see section 1.c).
In August the government signed into law a revised genocide ideology law that introduced international definitions for genocide and narrowed the scope of what constitutes “genocide ideology” and related offences to a more specific range of actions and statements. Specifically, the new law states that “genocidal ideology” must be clearly linked to specific acts or statements, rather than the broader “aggregate of thoughts” standard defined in the 2008 law. International and local human rights organizations, including HRW and the Rwandan League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LIPRODHOR), welcomed the revised law while expressing concern that, despite clearer protections and narrower definitions, the law still could be used by the government to restrict freedom of speech and the press.
The government investigated and prosecuted individuals accused of threatening or harming genocide survivors and witnesses or of espousing genocide ideology, which the law defines as dehumanizing an individual or a group with the same characteristics by threatening, intimidating, defaming, inciting hatred, negating the genocide, taking revenge, altering testimony or evidence, killing, planning to kill, or attempting to kill someone.
The NPPA reported that, from July 2012 to July 2013, authorities prosecuted 772 individuals for divisionism and “genocide ideology-related crimes,” representing a 33 percent increase in such prosecutions, compared with the July 2011 to 2012 period.
Press Freedoms: Vendors sold both private and government-owned newspapers published in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. There were 53 newspapers, journals, and other publications registered with the government, although fewer than 10 published regularly. Sporadically published independent newspapers maintained positions both in support of and contrary to or critical of the government. There were 26 radio stations (six government-owned and 20 independent), one government-run television station, and one independent television station that had a radio station affiliate.
A set of five media laws passed during the year granted greater press freedoms, although restrictions remained. Under the new laws, professional journalists no longer are required to hold a journalism degree. The Media High Council, which previously had the power to suspend newspapers, under the new law serves in a “capacity building” role, with a media-elected self-regulatory body overseeing the media and accrediting journalists.
Under the new media laws, journalists must refrain from reporting items that violate “confidentiality in the national security and national integrity” and “confidentiality of judicial proceedings, parliamentary sessions, and cabinet deliberations in camera.” The laws provide journalists the freedom to investigate, express opinions, and “seek, receive, give, and broadcast information and ideas through any media.” Censorship of information is explicitly prohibited. The new laws restrict these freedoms if journalists “jeopardize the general public order and good morals, an individual’s right to honor and reputation in the public eye and to the right to inviolability of a person’s private life and family.” Authorities may seize journalists’ material and information if a “media offense” occurs, but only if a court orders it. Courts may compel journalists to declare confidential sources in the event of an investigation or criminal proceeding. Persons wanting to start a media outlet must still apply with the “competent public organ.” All media rights and prohibitions apply to persons writing for websites.
Despite the new media laws, self-censorship occurred due to harassment and threats from official and unofficial sources.
Violence and Harassment: Police detained and harassed journalists, and their products were sometimes embargoed or confiscated. For example, on June 4, border/immigration police confiscated copies of the Impamo, Rusyashya, and Intego newspapers at the Gatuna border crossing on the border with Uganda. The newspapers were printed in Uganda and transported to Kigali and other parts of Rwanda weekly or semiweekly. Police told employees of the newspapers and the interim head of the media self-regulatory body that the newspapers were seized because they contained articles on the firing of former justice minister Tharcisse Karugarama. Others were told that the newspapers were seized because their publishers did not pay required duties. All copies of the three newspapers were released within a week.
On September 4, police arrested Joseph Hakuzwumuremyi and questioned him on his sources for a story detailing a reshuffle within the RNP force’s hierarchy. Police demanded that he remove the story from his website because he allegedly obtained information illegally. Police also asked him to identify his sources. He removed the story but did not divulge his sources and was released from custody after several hours.
The government did not expel any members of the media from the country. No journalists were known to have exiled themselves during the year, although several journalists who fled in recent years remained outside the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the government to restrict access to some government documents and information, including information on individual privacy and information or statements that are deemed to be slander or defamation.
No journalists were convicted in censorship-related cases during the year. On July 26, journalist Stanley Gatera, editor of Umusingi newspaper, who was convicted in 2012 on divisionism and gender discrimination charges, was released from prison. Following his release, Gatera restarted his newspaper, which had been on hiatus during his prison term, and published an account of his stay in prison.
In June authorities released Saiditi Mukakibibi, a journalist working for the Umurabya newspaper, from prison. She was arrested in 2010 and convicted in 2011 on charges of defamation, inciting public disorder, and divisionism. The newspaper’s editor, Agnes Uwimana, remained in prison following her conviction for incitement to civil disobedience, contempt for the head of state, spreading rumors to cause public disorder, denying the genocide, and likening President Kagame to Adolf Hitler.
Radio stations broadcast criticism of government policies, including using popular citizen call-in shows. Some radio stations, including Radio 1, Radio Isango Star, and Radio Salus, had regular call-in shows that featured discussion of government programs or policies. During the period preceding the September Chamber of Deputies’ elections, radio stations such as Radio Isango Star, Radio Ishingiro, Radio Izuba Irashe, and others reported irregularities at polling stations.
Libel Laws/National Security: Defamation (libel and slander) is a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment. Courts convicted journalists and others on the charge of threatening state security (undermining national defense under the new penal code) and related crimes (see section 1.a.).
The new media laws include the right of all citizens to “receive, disseminate, or send information through internet,” including the right to start and maintain a website. All provisions of the media laws apply to web-based publications. Restrictions such as website blocking remained in place. There were numerous reports that the government monitored e-mail and internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views via the internet, including by e-mail, but were subject to monitoring. There were reports monitoring led to detention and interrogation of individuals by the SSF. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8 percent of the population used the internet in 2011.
There were reports the government blocked access within the country to several websites that were critical of its policies. Such sites included diaspora-run websites, such as Umuvugizi and leProfete.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom or cultural events, but authorities frequently suspended secondary and university students for divisionism or engaging in genocide ideology, which led to self-censorship.