[JURIST] Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] urged Rwanda to review laws it claims have a “genocide ideology” that are being used to silence critics and dissenters, in a report [text, PDF] published Friday. The report says that the government of Rwandan President Paul Kagame [official website; BBC profile] has expressed a commitment to reviewing laws that criminalize criticism, but recent prosecution of journalists and other opposition leaders show that the situation has not changed. AI claims that Rwanda has broadly drafted hate speech laws passed since the 1994 genocide [HRW backgrounder] that are being used to criminalize legitimate criticism and expression that does not rise to the level of hate speech. The report claims that Kagame used restrictive regulatory and defamation laws to clampdown on newspaper criticism and that a prominent opposition candidate, Bernard Ntaganda, was prosecuted and jailed on politically motivated charges right before the last presidential election. The report says:
[f]reedom of expression in Rwanda has been unduly restricted for many years. The months leading up to the August 2010 presidential elections, which [Kagame] won with 93 per cent of the vote, were marked by a clampdown on freedom of expression. The Rwandan government has expressed a commitment to review laws which criminalize criticism, but recent trials of journalists and opposition politicians suggest that Rwanda’s clampdown on critics shows no sign of abating.
The Kagame administration has denied the claims [Reuters report] in the report saying that Rwanda has a vibrant media community and political discourse. It calls the report inaccurate and partisan.
Last September, a Rwandan court sentenced Deogratias Mushayidi [AI backgrounder] to life in prison for recruiting rebels and trying to incite violence against the Kagame-led government. Mushayidi was the leader of the Pact for the Defence of the People, the former head of the Rwandan Journalists’ Association and a member of the ruling party [BBC report] before becoming a vocal critic. In April 2010, Rwandan authorities arrested [JURIST report] opposition presidential candidate Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza [campaign website], accusing her of denying the 1994 genocide. The arrests come at a time when Kagame has received criticism [press release] from Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] for his treatment of opposition parties. Last August, Peter Erlinder, former defense counsel at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, argued [JURIST op-ed] that even though the White House has become more openly critical of Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s regime, the US and international community at large must take a much closer look at those in power before true reconciliation will come to Rwanda.