Media Defence Logo

CLOSE

African Commission finds Rwandan Authorities Violated Journalists’ Right to Freedom of Expression

African Commission finds Rwandan Authorities Violated Journalists’ Right to Freedom of Expression

The African Commission of Human and People’s Rights has found that Rwanda violated the right to freedom of expression of two journalists, Agnes Uwimana Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibi, after they were convicted and imprisoned on national security offences for publishing a series of articles criticising the Rwandan Government and President Paul Kagame. Ms Uwimana was also convicted of having defamed Mr Kagame.

The Commission also declared that Rwanda’s laws, which continue to criminalise insult and defamation and impose custodial sentences for both offences, also violate Article 9 of the African Charter. It requested that Rwanda amend the laws immediately.

In May 2010, Agnes Uwimana Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibi published a series of articles in Umurabyo, an independent Kinyarwanda-language newspaper in Rwanda. The articles commented on a range of sensitive subjects including on government corruption and the operation of the Gacaca courts, the system of transitional justice established in the wake of the 1994 genocide.

Two months later, Uwimana and Mukakibi were arrested. They were tried and convicted on charges of incitement to violence, divisionism, genocide denial and of having criminally defamed President Kagame. Uwimana was sentenced to 17 years, Mukakibi to seven years in prison. In April 2012, the Supreme Court quashed the convictions for genocide and divisionism and reduced their sentences to four and three years respectively. They remained in detention until 2013 and 2014.

While in detention, the journalists filed a complaint to the Commission alleging that authorities had violated their right to freedom of expression and fair trial as guaranteed by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.

In May 2020, the Commission held that Rwandan authorities had violated the journalists’ right to freedom of expression, finding that the severe restrictions imposed on them ostensibly for the protection of national security, were not necessary.

Importantly, the Commission also affirmed that criminal defamation and insult laws – in general – violate Article 9 of the African Charter. It stressed that such laws are often used to stifle public debate and prevent “journalists and media practitioners from practicing their profession in good faith, without fear or censorship”. It requested that Rwanda immediately amend its laws.

Criminal defamation and insult laws remain on the books in many countries in the region and continue to be used against journalists to suppress critical reporting. The judgment provides another authoritative precedent that such practices are contrary to the international standards on freedom of expression. Rwanda will now have 180 days in which to report to the Commission on how it intends to implement this judgment.

Media Defence and the late John Jones QC represented Agnes Uwimana Nkusi and Saidati Mukakibi

If you are a journalist in need of support, please click here.

Recent News

Media Defence Launches New Summary Modules on Digital Rights and Freedom of Expression Online

As part of our Digital Rights Advocates Project, Media Defence announces its new Summary Modules on Digital Rights and Freedom of Expression Online developed in collaboration with ALT Advisory. These modules provide an overview of relevant principles and case law for lawyers in sub-Saharan Africa interested in litigating digital rights cases. The modules are a […]

Read

Digital Rights Advocates: Interview with Zambian Lawyer Michelle Mwiinga

Welcome to the Digital Rights Advocates Blog Series, where we hear from lawyers litigating digital rights in sub-Saharan Africa. Digital rights have become indispensable for people around the world to exercise and enjoy their fundamental rights. Independent media is increasingly moving online – from established newspapers and television channels to bloggers and human rights activists […]

Read

2020 in Review: The Effects of Covid-19 on Freedom of Expression Worldwide

2020 has been an extraordinary year, with the world facing unprecedented challenges due to COVID-19. People moved their lives almost entirely online, even as they took to the streets to protest in staggering numbers. We have seen a rise in the number of governments clamping down on freedom of speech, ostensibly to protect citizens from […]

Read