May 2, 2019

Laws That Constrain And Advance Media Freedom in Rwanda

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There was widespread jubilation last week, when President Paul Kagame came out on April 12 to assert that although he respected the ruling, he did not agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to maintain Article 236 of the Penal Code.

Article 236 reads: “Any person who insults or defames the President of the Republic, commits an offense”.

A private Kigali lawyer had sought the Supreme Court’s view on the constitutionality of several articles including three which specifically concern the media. The Bench struck out two.

Those declared unconstitutional and thrown 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.”

After the ruling, the presidency issued a statement saying in part that: “The President…respects the independence of the judiciary and the recent Supreme Court decision to decriminalise the offences related to humiliation of public officials…,” but that “The President…takes issue with the decision to retain as criminal offences, insults or defamation against the Head of State, who is also a public official”

Social media went in overdrive following the development, expressing wide admiration for Kagame for his move.

It remains to be seen whether the remaining article will also be removed from the penal code.

Even with this positive step in the long struggle to decriminalization media errors, and defamation a civil offence, many other articles appear in various other laws that pose a challenge to media operations.

They are found in the Penal Code which came into force in June 2018, the media law of 2013, the access to information law, the law of the Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Agency (RURA) of 2013 and other security laws.

For example, Article 215 of the penal code obligates anyone, including media to disclose to the authorities anything that is a threat to national security.

There are various articles in the penal code which will undermine investigative journalism such as Articles 160 and 156.

Article 218 bars “humiliation or insult against” foreign Heads of States or representatives of foreign States or representatives of international organizations in Rwanda.

As Rwanda marks World Press Freedom Day, May 3, The Chronicles has outlined some, but not all the articles and laws in place that will impede media operations. The list is not conclusive, but gives an idea that more still needs to be done.

However, despite the many controls in place, the 2003 Constitution is very progressive as Article 38 grants freedom of press, of expression and of access to information.

It reads: “Freedom of expression and freedom of access to information shall not prejudice public order, good morals, the protection of the youth and children, the right of every citizen to honour and dignity and protection of personal and family privacy. Conditions for exercising and respect for these freedoms are determined by law.”

There is also a host of general legal frameworks which advance media freedom and operations of the media.

See full table for details:

Laws and Articles Which Could Impact Media Freedom and Development Laws and Articles Which Advance Media  
                            Penal Code

Article 194: Spreading false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause a hostile international opinion against Rwandan Government  
You could go to jail for up to ten (10) years if convicted  
2003 Constitution
Article 38: Freedom of press, of expression and of access to information
Freedom of press, of expression and of access to information are recognised and guaranteed by the State. Freedom of expression and freedom of access to information shall not prejudice public order, good morals, the protection of the youth and children, the right of every citizen to honour and dignity and protection of personal and family privacy. Conditions for exercising and respect for these freedoms are determined by law.
Penal Code  

Article 215: Non-disclosure of plans of treason, espionage or any other act that could impede national defence
Up to fifteen (15) years imprisonment  
LAW No 2/2013 Regulating Media
Article 8: Freedom to receive and broadcast information

  Freedom of the media and freedom to receive information are recognized and respected by the state. Such freedom shall be applicable in accordance with the law.  
Penal Code  

Article 157: Publication of edited statements or images:  

Imprisonment for a year and a fine of  Rwf 2m  
LAW No 2/2013 Regulating Media  

Article 10: Modalities for seizure  

The material of a journalist shall not be seized. Except if it is ordered by the court  
Penal Code  

Article 159: Offences committed against correspondences in the various telecommunication channels  

Up to 2 years in prison and a fine of  Rwf 3m  
LAW No 2/2013 Regulating Media  

Article 12: Right to collect information.  

But respectful of article 6 of this law which says of confidentiality in the national security and national integrity. And judicial proceedings, parliamentary session and cabinet deliberations in camera.  
Penal Code  

Article 160: Collection of individuals’ personal information in computers  

Up to a year imprisonment and Rwf 2million fine  
LAW No 2/2013 Regulating Media  

Article 14: Right of a journalist to call on any resourceful person and those who provides instructions to him/her.

  A journalist may seek advice, from any resourceful person according to the competency he /she has. The journalist shall not be liable for any comment made by the resourceful person.
Penal Code  

Article 156: Secretly listening to conversations, taking photos or disclosing them    

A Year in jail and a fine of (FRW 2,000,000) or only one of these penalties. If the acts referred to in Paragraph One of this Article are committed in full view and awareness of the persons concerned and without opposing the acts while they were able to do so, their consent is presumed  

LAW no 2/2013 Regulating Media  

Article 23: Keeping recorded programmes  

At least three months.
Penal Code  

Article 132: Providing false statement

  Under this article one can be in jail for six months and Rwf 1million  
Law  no 4 /2013 Relating To Access To Information  

Article 3: Access to Information  

Everyone has the right to access to information in a possession of a public organ and some private bodies.  
Penal Code  

Article 218: Humiliation or insult against one of the persons referred to under Article 217  

The persons under article 217 are : foreign Heads of States or representatives of foreign States or representatives of international organizations in Rwanda When your story is deemed to be insulting any one of them, be ready to face up to 5 years imprisonment  
Law  no 4 /2013 Relating To Access To Information  

Article 6: Public Interest in disclosure of information.

  A public organ or a private body to which this law applies shall disclose information where the public interest outweighs the interest of not disclosing such information.
Penal Code  

Article 236: Insults or defamation against the President of the Republic

  Seven (7) years of imprisonment and a fine of Rwf7million
Article 243: Non-disclosure of a felony or misdemeanor    

This time when you knew a felony and you did not report him/her you are waiting one (2) years imprisonment and RWF 500,000 fine but when the victim is a child, the punishment doubled.
Penal Code  

Article 251: Refusal to testify  

Two years imprisonment and Rwf 500,000 fine  
Law No 2/2013 Regulating Media

  Article 4: Regulation of media:

  The daily functioning of media and the conduct ofjournalists shall be regulated by the media self-regulatory body. However, the National Utilities statutory regulator shall also carry out the regulation of audio, audio-visual media and internet (RURA).  
Law No 2/2013 Regulating Media

  Article9: Limits to Freedom of Opinion  

Censorship of information is prohibited. However the freedom of opinions and information shall not jeopardize  the general public order and good morals , individual’s right to honour and reputation in public eye and to the right to inviolability of a person’s private life and family;  

LAW no 9 /2013 establishing Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) and determining its mission, powers, organization and functioning

  ARTICLE 5: Specific mission of RURA in regard to the media.  

Specific missions of RURA with regard to the media shall be governed by a Prime Minister’s Order.  
LAW no 9 /2013 establishing Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority (RURA) and determining its mission, powers, organization and functioning

  ARTICLE 8 : Power To Obtain Information  

RURA shall have the power to require any regulated public utility provider to provide it with information about its activities. The information is: financial mater, technical, scientific, marketing, commercial, file related to legal issues, and products information, irrespective of their importance. Providing wrong information and delaying shall be punishable by law.  

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