The constitution provides for freedom of speech and press “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government restricted these rights. Despite establishing a self-regulatory media commission, 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. Journalists reported that government agents questioned, detained, and at times threatened bodily harm or death in response to reporting that the government considered critical. Numerous journalists practiced self-censorship.
Freedom of Speech: Individuals could criticize the government publicly or privately on policy implementation and some other issues, but criticism of the presidency generally was not tolerated. 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 $755). 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.
On August 29, the government charged retired brigadier general Frank Rusagara and retired colonel Tom Byabagamba in the Nyamirambo Military Court with spreading rumors intended to incite the population to rise up against the government, making false statements intended to impugn the government, insulting the president, and encouraging RPF party members to dialogue with members of the Rwandan National Congress in addition to other state security charges, including possession of illegal firearms.
In August 2013 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 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 but expressed concern that, despite clearer protections and narrower definitions, the government still could use the law to restrict freedom of speech and 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 government reported prosecutions for divisionism and “genocide ideology-related crimes” declined from 772 cases from July 2012 through 2013 to 20 cases from January to August.
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 27 radio stations (six government-owned and 21 independent), one government-run television station, and five independent television stations.
A set of five media laws passed in 2013 granted greater press freedoms but had no discernable effect on press freedom. Under these laws, professional journalists no longer are required to hold a journalism degree. The Media High Council, which previously had the power to suspend newspapers, served in a “capacity-building” role. The laws established the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), a self-regulatory body that oversaw the media and accredited journalists.
Despite these reforms, media professionals reported government officials sought to influence reporting and warned journalists against reporting information deemed sensitive or critical of the government. The government frequently interfered in the work of the ostensibly independent RMC.
On October 24, the government shut down radio frequencies carrying the BBC’s Kinyarwanda service following a documentary about the Rwandan genocide that BBC Two broadcast October 1 in the United Kingdom. The government and civil society groups alleged that the documentary constituted a denial of the genocide, which is a crime under Rwandan law, and members of parliament alleged the BBC had engaged in hate speech. The chairman of the RMC criticized the contents of the documentary but opposed suspending the BBC; however, in contravention of laws on media self-regulation the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority ordered the BBC to be taken off the air.
Under the 2013 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, although censorship occurred. The 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 reveal confidential sources in the event of an investigation or criminal proceeding. Persons wanting to start a media outlet must apply with the "competent public organ." All media rights and prohibitions apply to persons writing for websites.
Violence and Harassment: There were reports police and the SSF at times detained and harassed journalists, such as in April and May during a security operation focused on alleged networks of Rwandan National Congress and FDLR supporters. The government did not expel any resident members of the media from the country. In March the government refused entry upon arrival to foreign journalist Steve Terrill, citing an article linking Terrill to a narcotics arrest in the United States. Terrill alleged the government refused him entry due to his reporting on a Twitter account, run by individuals in President Kagame’s office, which was used to attack government critics. One journalist fled to Uganda after reporting threats from government agents shortly after the genocide commemoration in April; government officials stated the journalist fled in connection with a corruption investigation. 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.
Authorities released Agnes Uwimana, editor of the Umurabya newspaper, from prison in June after she served a four-year sentence 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. Uwimana reopened Umurabya upon her release.
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. One radio station suspended a morning call-in show in early April after reportedly receiving threats from the government related to an on-air discussion of the arrest of popular musician Kizito Mihigo; the program resumed broadcasting several weeks later.
Libel Laws/National Security: Defamation (libel and slander) is a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment. Libel laws generally were not used to suppress the publication of material that criticized government policies or government officials.
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, however. 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. The government announced plans to build a 4G wireless broadband network in order to provide internet access to 95 percent of the population by 2015. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 8 percent of the population used the internet in 2012.
Government-run social media accounts were used to debate and at times intimidate individuals who posted online comments considered critical of the government. In March, the Washington Post reported that a Twitter account purporting to represent the views of a private individual was run by President Kagame's office and used to attack and attempt to discredit individuals deemed hostile to Rwanda. The Presidency deleted the account and tweeted that the staff who had managed the account were disciplined.
The government at times blocked access within the country to several websites critical of its policies. Such sites included diaspora-run websites, such as Umuvugizi and Le Profete.
There was one report of a cyberattack against an opposition website in which progovernment messages were posted without the involvement of site administrators.
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.