March 9, 2021

Journalist Detained for Refusing to Delete Recording of Court Session

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Uwimana Nkusi Agnes, editor of Umurabyo news site

A judge on Tuesday ordered the arrest and detention of Nkusi Uwimana Agnes, editor of Umurabyo news site, who was covering the bail hearing of Idamange Yvonne, the woman facing charges over controversial YouTube videos.

On Tuesday afternoon, Idamange had returned to the Gasabo Primary Court in Kibagabaga, Kigali, to know if her bail would be granted. Her first appearance was March 4, in a case where she faces 6 charges including inciting an uprising, negating the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi and issuing a bounced cheque.

In that session, Prosecution sought to keep Idamange for a farther 30 days to allow them compete their investigation. Idamange for her part sought to be released so she could go back to her four children since she is their sole breadwinner.

During the session today, Idamange was following via videoconference from the Remera Police station with her lawyer Bruce Bikotwa. The judge was in the court premises.

As the unidentified judge completed pronouncement that Idamange could not be granted bail and therefore was to go to jail, he noticed that journalist Uwimana had placed her phone in front of him throughout the session.

As he looked at the phone, asking whose it was, Uwimana raised her hand that it was hers. The judge directed her to put the passwords so he opens the phone to “see what you are recording”. Uwimana refused to give away her password.

The judge said it was illegal to record in court, and ordered Police officers keeping guard at the court to detain Uwimana. The judge said he would follow up on the case himself.

During the first session of March 4, the same judge directed that journalists were not allowed to take photos or record audios of the bench. Reporters were in the court, and were let to only take photos of the screen of the videoconference from Remera police station where Idamange followed session.

As the situation stands by Tuesday evening, journalist Uwimana will spend the night in police custody awaiting the charges from the judge.

Judges have on several occasions warned reporters with cameras and recorders in court and even forced them to delete whatever was recorded. However, it is the first time a judge has ordered that a reporter be arrested and detained.

The media in Rwanda can cover court proceedings. However, recorders and camera are not allowed by law unless granted by the court. Very often, it is usually at the discretion of the presiding judge to determine what the media should do. Very often, judges demand that their names and photos not be published in the media.

In some court cases, especially those in which the state has high interest like that of Hotel Rwanda movie personality Paul Rusesabagina, all details are allowed to be published.

For every case, journalists are in court at the mercy of the judges. In cases where prosecution doesn’t demonstrate interest to have the case covered widely, judges choose how to act.

Journalist Uwimana is no stranger to jail. She spent four years in jail between 2010-2014 after conviction over undermining state security and defaming the Head of State. All her cases were as a result of stories in her newspaper Umurabyo.

UPDATED March 10, 2021: 13h

Journalist Uwimana Nkusi Agnes has been released from detention ordered by a judge, who said she was recording in court yet it was illegal. She was released late Tuesday night, after hours in the cell at the court premises. Uwimana got her back, but says the phone has been completely formatted. All data and contacts no longer on the phone. Uwimana says she is going to file a court case against the yet unidentified judge.

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