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Rwanda: 'Living in fear of saying the wrong thing'

New Amnesty report criticises vague Rwanda laws
Amnesty International has today [31 August] urged Rwanda’s new government to review its vague laws of ‘genocide ideology’ and ‘sectarianism’ which can lead to imprisonment for up to 25 years.
In its new report entitled Safer to Stay Silent: The Chilling Effect of Rwanda’s Laws on ‘Genocide Ideology’ and ‘Sectarianism (pdf) Amnesty raised concerns that the laws are being used to suppress political dissent and stifle freedom of speech.  
It details how the vague wording of these laws is misused to criminalise criticism of the government and dissent by opposition politicians, human rights activists and journalists.
Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director, Erwin van der Borght said:
“The ambiguity of the ‘genocide ideology’ and ‘sectarianism’ law means Rwandans live in fear of being punished for saying the wrong thing. Most take the safe option of staying silent.”
Amnesty International found that many Rwandans, even those with specialist knowledge of Rwandan law, were unable to precisely define ‘genocide ideology’. Even judges noted that the law was broad and abstract.
Accusations of ‘genocide ideology’ have also been used to settle personal disputes. Current laws allow for the criminal punishment of Children's rights as young as 12, accused of genocide ideology. Parents, guardians and teachers can all face the threat of “inoculating” a child with “genocide ideology”.
Sentences for convicted adults range from 10 to 25 years’ imprisonment.
The ‘genocide ideology’ and ‘sectarianism’ laws were introduced to restrict speech that could promote hatred in the decade following the 1994 genocide.   While prohibiting hate speech is a legitimate aim, the approach used by the Rwandan Government has violated international law.
The Rwandan government announced a review of the ‘genocide ideology’ law in April 2010. The government should also launch a review of the ‘sectarianism’ law and demonstrate a new approach to freedom of expression in order to stem the chilling effect of past legislation.  
Amnesty International is urging the Rwandan government to significantly amend the laws, to publicly express a commitment to freedom of expression, to review past convictions and to train police and prosecutors on how to investigate accusations.
Erwin van der Borght added:
“We hope that the government review will result in a meaningful revision of the ‘genocide ideology’ and ‘sectarianism’ laws, so that freedom of expression is protected both on paper and in practice.”

Download the report now (pdf)
Notes to Editors
· Rwanda’s ‘genocide ideology’ law was promulgated in 2008 and the ‘sectarianism’ law was promulgated in 2001.
· According to government figures, there were 1,034 trials related to ‘genocide ideology’ in 2007-2008. These were prosecuted under charges ranging from assassinations to damage to cattle.
· According to government figures, 435 ‘genocide ideology’ cases were tried at first instance in 2009.
· In the lead-up to the 9 August presidential elections two opposition candidates were arrested and charged, among other things, with ‘genocide ideology’. A newspaper editor was also arrested on the same charge.
· The BBC and VOA have both been accused of disseminating ‘genocide ideology’ by the government. These accusations led to the suspension of the BBC Kinyarwanda service for two months from April 2009.
A full copy of the report is available upon request.

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