Being locked up for saying the wrong thing

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has at times blurted out an inappropriate remark or two. Never intended to be harmful or malicious, but sometimes it’s just the wrong thing. For example when meeting the brother of one of my friends for the first time I chuckled at his ‘impersonation’ of a Liverpudlian accent and said: “Your accent is really funny – how long did it take you to practice that?” Only for him to reply saying “This is how I speak normally.”

Or to say to a friend “That’s an interesting musty perfume you have on.” For her to reply, “I’m not wearing any.”

Yes… I have had many a moment when I end up saying the wrong thing and remind myself that I should not speak as quickly as I do.

Thankfully though my misdemeanours have been minor and I live in the UK where I’m not likely to be imprisoned if I say something out of turn.

In Rwanda however, it’s an entirely different matter. As Amnesty has pointed out in its new report today, some people are imprisoned for up to 25 years if they commit ‘genocide ideology’.  

Now I would be the first to agree that that cracking down on hate speech is a legitimate aim. And after the brutal massacre of 1994 where more than 800,000 people were killed in Rwanda, people there are painfully aware of the harm that hatred speech can create. 

But the problem is – no one really knows what falls into the remit of ‘genocide ideology’.  This law and ‘sectarianism’ law, are so vague and so wide-ranging that as Amnesty’s Africa Programme Director pointed out this morning on the Today programme (at 0655), these laws have been used to suppress free speech and clamp down on political dissent. 

Even judges and senior lawyers in Rwanda have admitted to Amnesty that the law is broad and abstract and many are not able to fully define genocide ideology.  As a result, people do live in fear of disagreeing with the government for fear that they may be charged.

Such a system has to be changed, and quickly under the new government so that people have clarity about what these laws actually do cover. While prohibiting hate speech is a legitimate aim, laws in place to prevent that should be not be used as a smokescreen to crackdown on government critics.

For more information, visit here for a copy of the report.

About Amnesty UK Blogs
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.
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