President Paul Kagame in an unprecedented move has weighed in on the ongoing fallout after the county’s highest court ruled to keep an Article the puts him in special category different from “other government officials”.
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court bench led by Chief Justice Prof Sam Rugege struck down two contentious penal code articles, which have been deemed as restrictive on the media.
Those struck out are:
Article 154: “Any person who publicly defames religious rituals, symbols and religious cult objects by use of actions, words, signs, writings, gestures or threats, whether carried out at the place where rituals are intended to be performed or where they are normally performed, commits an offense.”
Article 233: “Any person who, verbally, by gestures or threats, in writings or cartoons, humiliates a member of Parliament when exercising his/her mandate, a member of the Cabinet, security officers or any other person in charge of a public service in the performance or in connection with the performance of his/her duties, commits an offense.”
However, the bench did not touch another of the three Articles, which is Article 236 that reads: “Any person who insults or defames the President of the Republic, commits an offense”.
In a statement, it is this remaining article that President Kagame says he “respects decision of the Supreme Court Judges to remove laws on insulting and humiliation of senior government officials….but does not agree with their decision to maintain article which criminalises insulting or defaming the President because he is also a government official in in the country”.
Kagame added that he “hopes there will be continued consultations on the issue.”
It remains to be seen what will happen after the President enters the muddy waters provoked after the latest Supreme Court rulings.
The coming days and weeks are surely going to be a test for the institutions below him, because media campaigners have for more than two years fought for the removal of all the three articles.
Parliament, and now the Supreme Court, simply ignored the pleas.