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Rights group calls for amendment of Rwanda 'genocide ideology' laws

Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] on Tuesday urged the Rwandan government [report, PDF; press release] to review its "genocide ideology" and "sectarianism" laws, which they say are being used to stifle freedom of speech and expression in the country. The laws were first enacted following the 1994 Rwandan genocide [HRW backgrounder; JURIST news archives], where hate speech and propaganda played a role in inciting violence against the Tutsi minority. In the report, AI acknowledged that prohibiting hate speech is a legitimate goal for the Rwandan government, but called the laws "vague" and "sweeping" and warned that they are being used to deliberately violate human rights. AI stated that legal experts and judges have difficulty interpreting the laws and that allegations of genocide ideology have been made against opposition political candidates and news organizations, including the BBC. They also contend that the laws are being used to settle local disputes, with children as young as 12 being punished for violating the laws. AI applauded efforts by the Rwandan government to improve their judicial system and to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) [official website], but cautioned that, without reform of the laws, concerns will remain about the judicial system. The Rwandan government announced in April that they will review the laws, although no steps have currently been taken to amend the laws.

In their report, AI cited the arrest of US lawyer and JURIST Forum [website] contributor Peter Erlinder [professional profile; JURIST news archive] under a related law as an example of the misapplication of the country's genocide laws. Rwandan police arrested Erlinder [JURIST report] in May on charges that he denied the 1994 genocide. Erlinder was in Rwanda to prepare his defense of opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza [campaign website], who was arrested in April [JURIST report] on similar charges. Erlinder pleaded not guilty [JURIST report], but was deemed a flight risk [AFP report] and initially denied bail, despite his claim that he needed to return to the US for medical treatment following what Rwandan officials say was a suicide attempt [JURIST report]. He was released from custody and returned to the US [JURIST reports] in June after being detained for more than 30 days.

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