A local TV and radio presenter was on Tuesday September 17 arrested by the Rwanda Investigations Bureau (RIB) over alleged obscene social media posts – his case coming after several others people facing prosecution over what they shared online.
Arrest of Irénè Mulindahabi, co-presenter of Sunday Night Live show on Isango TV and Radio, was announced late Tuesday. Apart from saying he has posted obscenities on his social media platforms, there was no detail.
The Chronicles has been told Mulindahabi’s arrest is in connection to a video posted on PhilPeter250 YouTube channel in which a woman is asked a question about sex issues, and she responds with language that is shocking to watch. The video has since been deleted.
Mulindahabi’s case is one of a growing trend of the authorities’ long arm cracking down on social media users. As the platforms increasingly become the escape for many youths who spend hours on them, so is the government – keen to keep an eye on what its people are doing online.
This latest arrest also comes after ICT and Innovation Minister Paula Ingabire announced in Parliament in May that government was devising strategy to keep lid on social media in bid to counter “misinformation” and “lies”.
Several offenders have found themselves on the wrong side of the government’s wish.
In March, Isimbi Noeline released nude photos on her Instagram page. It was first such case where the photos are not leaked, but instead posted by the one in the photos. Isimbi had been a contestant for Miss Rwanda 2019 earlier.
Isimbi provoked tempers from all sides. There were angry condemners and loud supporters in equal measure. Culture and Sports Minister Espérance Nyirasafari told local media that Isimbi should be arrested and prosecuted – comments that didn’t go down well with Isimbi’s supporters.
Indeed, RIB summoned Isimbi, was questioned but not detained. We may never know why no charges were pressed, but it seems that the authorities didn’t want her case to be around too long. Today, Isimbi is still publishing her photos.
Mid last month, university lecturer Aimable Karasira aka Professor Nigga went offline for about three days and news was all over that he was missing.
Karasira, a singer as well, is known for making socially controversial comments in interviews with YouTubers. Most recently, reacting to suicides in the same week, Karasira said he also intended to commit suicide to escape from the “bad” Rwandan society.
In one YouTube video, Karasira also says the happiest Rwandans enjoying government’s goodwill are women and criminals. According to him, in other countries, criminals are killed by mob justice. Yet in Rwanda, if the police finds a suspect injured, those who captured him will also be punished.
A few days after news of his reported disappearance, Facebook and WhatsApp groups were already filled with claims the security apparatus may have arrested him. He did emerge, saying he was attending a conference in Kigali. He also said he had been arrested twice before over his comments.
This September 17, an appeals court in Kigali ruled against the bail application of three young men who have been in custody since late last year. They are: Mutuyimana Jean Damascène, Nshimiyimana Jean Baptiste and Niyonsenga Schadrack.
Prosecution accuses them of using IWACU TV YouTube channel to spread rumours that could undermine state security. The channel is alleged to have posted various videos including one where they report that government was panicking due to the Rwanda National Congress (RNC), reference to grouping of dissidents headed by exiled former army chief Gen Kayumba Nyamwasa in South Africa.
The trio deny the charges, instead, telling court in previous appearances that their YouTube channel was to make money by writing enticing titles such that people can click on them, not to fight government. The appeals court ruled that they stay in custody until the start of their case on October 5.
Another set of three people is also in the court over YouTube posts. They are Rene Hubert Nsengiyumva – who operated IBYISHIMO.com a religious affairs news site, Jean Paul Niyitanga, a reporter for the site and local evangelist Steven Habimana Alias Niyibeshaho.
The troubles of the three stem from the Miss Rwanda 2019 contest in January this year. They are accused of using a YouTube channel to propagate information filled with ethnic undertones to promote contestant Josiane Mwiseneza.
On January 7, prosecutors claim that IBYISHIMO.com site ran a story that described Mwiseneza as contestant for Rwandans, while other contestants were foreigners.
The next day, a video was published on the site’s YouTube channel IBYISHIMO TV in which the evangelist Steven Habimana Alias Niyibeshaho said if Mwiseneza is not crowned Miss Rwanda 2019, Rwandans would be in tears and sorrow.
The case of the three remains a mystery. Prosecution of the case did not continue. The site is offline, and the channel has not been update since they were arrested.
When the ICT and Innovation Minister Ingabire was in parliament, she said government wouldn’t look on as some people used Twitter and Facebook for misinformation, defamation and disorganization of society.
“We are engaging users and stakeholders to devise a regulatory framework for social media content because when it’s not lies being spread, it is misinformation or defamation,” she said.
Minister Ingabire said Rwanda was following up on similar actions being undertaken in developed countries, naming UK in particular.
She said: “We are not going to wait until the country breaks down before we act to have an environment where social media is a tool used for the good of the nation and the people.”
Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Prosecutor General Jean Bosco Mutangana told local media that Mulindahabi Irénè had been released, but investigations would continue on his case.
Mutangana dismissed claims that Mulindababi had been set free because is from the media, and government didn’t want to be seen going after the media.
The cases demonstrated above seem to back Mutangana’s view: no one is immune.