Agnes Uwimana Nkusi

AgnesName: Agnes Uwimana Nkusi  

Location: Rwanda

Update:

On 18 June 2014, Rwandan journalist Agnès Uwimana Nkusi was released from prison after completing a four-year sentence on spurious charges of defamation and harming state security motivated by her independent reporting.

Reason Behind Bars:

On July 10 2010, Agnes Uwimana Nkusi and her colleague Ms. Saidati Mukakibibi were arrested following the publication of articles in the independent Kinyarwanda-language newspaper, Umurabyo (edited by Ms Uwimana), which criticized the Rwandan government and President Paul Kagame.

The Rwandan High Court charged both journalists with endangering national security, genocide denial, defamation of the President and divisionism (the issuing of statements that could be divisive and/or inflammatory). On February 4 2011, Ms Uwimana was sentenced to a total of 17 years imprisonment (with 5,10, 1 and 1 years for each of the charges, respectively), under the country’s vague and overly broad ‘genocide-ideology’ and sectarianism laws.

On April 5 2012, the Supreme Court cleared Ms Uwimana of the charges of genocide denial and divisionism, thereby reducing her sentence. However, the charges of defamation and endangering national security were upheld by the Court, leaving Ms Uwimana to serve out the remainder of her four year sentence.

Background:

Upon sentencing, Ms Uwimana’s legal counsel appealed to the court on the grounds of her HIV-positive status, insisting that a long stay in prison would be damaging to her health, however, the appeal on these grounds was rejected.

This is not the first time Ms Uwimana has been targeted by the Rwandan authorities. In January 2007 she faced similar charges, after she published an anonymous letter criticizing the government in Umurabyo. She was sentenced to two years in prison but returned to her work as a journalist after serving out her sentence.

There has been a worrying trend in recent years towards the use of draconian measures on the part of the Rwandan government to curb political dissent among journalist and government critics. Rwanda’s ‘genocide-ideology’ and sectarianism laws were conceived to insure against hate speech and the incitement of sectarian violence, however, their broad and unspecific nature have since allowed government to use them as a vehicle to silence legitimate dissent.

Though the dissemination of ‘genocide-ideology’ was criminalized in the 2003 Constitution, the term ‘genocide-ideology’ was not itself defined by Rwandan law until 2008, in the form of Law 18, which holds that the crime is “characterized in any behaviour manifested by acts aimed at deshumanizing (sic) a person or a group of persons with the same characteristics” – a definition that severely limits freedom of expression. Similarly, the law concerning ‘sectarianism’, which equally acts as the prosecutorial reference point for any charges of ‘divisionism’, is defined, under Law 47/2001, as follows, “Sectarianism means the use of any speech, written statement or action that divides people, that is likely to spark conflicts among people, or that causes an uprising which might degenerate into strife among people based on discrimination.”Both definitions provide fertile ground for the criminalization of legitimate forms of expression, affording undue discretion to the authorities to extend the scope of the Penal Code.

Though there has been some movement towards a revision of this legislation so as to remove ambiguities by defining the offences more precisely and requiring the intent behind the crime to also be established, vague offences, including the approving of genocide by ‘mocking’ an individual or a group simply on the grounds of shared characteristics, have also been included in revised drafts and are ripe for continued abuse.

For more Information:

Take Action:

  • Write a letter to the President of Rwanda, calling for the immediate release of Agnes Uwimana Nkusi