The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press “in conditions prescribed by the law.” The government at times restricted these rights. The government intimidated and arrested journalists who expressed views that were deemed critical on sensitive topics or who were believed to have violated the law or journalistic standards. Numerous journalists practiced self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech: The law prohibits the propagation of ideas based on “ethnic, regional, racial, religious, language, or other divisive characteristics.” Public incitement to “divisionism,” which includes discrimination and sectarianism, is punishable by up to five years in prison and fines of up to five million Rwandan francs ($8,300). Other statutes forbid displaying contempt for the head of state or other public officials and carry sentences of up to five years in prison and fines of up to 10,000 Rwandan francs ($17). Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately on most topics. However, the laws prohibiting divisionism, genocide ideology, and genocide denial continued to discourage citizens from expressing viewpoints that might be construed as promoting societal divisions.
In December 2010 authorities arrested and charged Roman Catholic priest Emile Nsengiyumva with threatening state security after he gave a sermon criticizing government family planning programs and the “Guca Nyakatsi” housing program. On July 29, the court convicted Nsengiyumva and sentenced him to a year and a half in prison.
Unlike in the previous year, there were no reports that organized groups targeted and killed genocide survivors or witnesses. However, police investigated at least two cases of violence against genocide survivors and witnesses. The government asserted the genocide ideology law was necessary to prevent reincitement to violence, but NGOs and human rights organizations criticized the law as overly broad and recommended its repeal or reform.
Freedom of Press: Vendors sold both private and government-owned newspapers, published in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. There were 31 newspapers, journals, and other publications registered with the government, although fewer than 10 published regularly. Sporadically published independent newspapers maintained positions contrary to and critical of the government. There were 23 radio stations (six government-owned and 17 independent) and one government-run television station.
Under the current Media Law, the Media High Council (MHC) has the power to suspend newspapers. The law also provides that the following crimes committed by the media are punishable with penalties provided for by the penal code: being an apologist for the genocide and genocide ideology, incitement to discrimination of any form, contempt of the head of state, and inciting the army or national police to insubordination. A court may order journalists to reveal their sources when deemed necessary to carry out criminal investigations or proceedings. The law also requires journalists to have either an associate’s degree in journalism or communication, a certificate obtained from an institute of journalism and communication, or a university degree with training in journalism. Previously practicing journalists without one of these qualifications must obtain them by 2015 to continue in their positions.
On February 4, the government sentenced Umurabyo newspaper journalist Saidati Mukakibibi to seven years’ imprisonment for defamation, inciting public disorder, and divisionism, and Umurabyo editor Agnes Uwimana to 17 years 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.
Violence and Harassment: Journalists continued to be subject to arrest and imprisonment, and some journalists reported government and nongovernment agents harassed and intimidated them due to their reporting.
For instance, police arrested Joseph Bideri, managing director of the progovernment English-language daily The New Times, on November 14. Bideri claimed his arrest resulted from articles published that exposed corruption in government tenders surrounding a hydropower plant. The police chief alleged Bideri was called in for questioning because the news reports were interfering with police and parliamentary investigations, but that during questioning he was arrested for “disrespecting and abusing” the police. Bideri was released the next day and either resigned or was fired from The New Times in December.
The government did not expel members of the press from the country. However, several journalists fled the country. For instance, Nelson Gatsimbazi, Umusingi newspaper general director, left in June after the state prosecutor filed charges against him for using divisionist language in a personal altercation with the editor of another newspaper.
On September 15, a court convicted Didace Nduguyangu of the June 2010 murder of Umuvugizi journalist Jean Leonard Rugambage and sentenced him to 10 years in prison. The court acquitted a second defendant, police officer Antoine Karemera. Authorities reported that Nduguyangu confessed that he killed Rugambage to avenge Rugambage’s alleged murder of his brother during the 1994 genocide. Some observers asserted the killing was politically motivated, as it occurred the same day Rugambage’s article alleged Rwandan government involvement in the assassination attempt against Kayumba Nyamwasa (see section 1.a.).
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law provides for censorship and content restrictions relating to some government documents, individual privacy, slander, and defamation.
On January 18, the government printing house ORINFOR refused to print an edition of Umusingi that included an interview with former chief of external security services Patrick Karegeya, whom a Rwandan military court convicted in absentia on January 14 of divisionism, threatening state security, forming a terrorist group, undermining public order, and contempt for the head of state, along with Kayumba Nyamwasa and two other former government officials.
There were several reports that private printing houses declined to print newspapers or charged more for sensitive issues. For example, on August 18, a private printing house, NICA, told Umusingi chief editor Stanley Gatera that it would not print the paper without payment of an additional 200,000 Rwandan francs ($333) because of two sensitive articles. In one article exiled Umusingi owner Nelson Gatsimbazi reported on diaspora opposition claims that only Tutsi children went to universities and got scholarships to study abroad, and he countered that inequality in Rwanda was a problem between rich and poor, not between Tutsi and Hutu. He agreed with opposition claims that people disappeared mysteriously or were killed extrajudicially. A second article by another writer claimed that the government did not protect worker rights and warned that youth unemployment could lead to protests.
Government officials did not pressure government institutions and local businesses to withhold advertising from newspapers critical of the government.
The law authorizes private radio and television broadcasting, subject to the approval of the government, although some media practitioners complained that the licensing fees were prohibitively high. The government owned and operated the country’s only television station.
Radio stations broadcast criticism of government policies, including through the use of popular citizen call-in shows.
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 and related crimes.