Human Rights Watch (HRW) Wednesday accused the Rwandan government of manipulating the country’s justice system to stifle free speech, citing the conviction of Rwandan opposition politician Théophile Ntirutwa, a member of the unregistered Dalfa-Umurinzi opposition party.
The High Court’s Rwamagana chamber sentenced Ntirutwa last month to seven years in prison for “spreading false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause a hostile international opinion against [the] Rwandan Government.” Ntirutwa was previously arrested on the above charge, along with the formation of a criminal association, murder, and theft in May 2020. He spent two-and-a-half years in pretrial detention, after which he was acquitted on December 16 on all charges except spreading false information.
According to HRW, Ntirutwa’s “conviction and harsh sentence violate human rights law.” HRW claims that the Rwandan government frequently uses the penal code to prosecute critics and members of the opposition party who have protested cuts in food rations.
Lewis Mudge, Central Africa Director at HRW said:
As the 2024 presidential elections approach, the Rwandan government should immediately release civil society activists, journalists, and opposition figures jailed for exercising their fundamental rights. The government should respect and protect their right to freedom of expression: a precondition for an environment conducive for free and fair elections.
HRW asked Rwanda to repeal the provision penalizing free speech immediately and revise the penal code according to international and human rights standards.