Rwanda drops harsh penalty from media Bill

Saturday December 30 2017

Journalists’ meeting at the Rwanda Media Commission. FILE PHOTO | NMG

Journalists’ meeting at the Rwanda Media Commission. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

By IVAN R. MUGISHA
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One of the three Articles that criminalise defamation has been dropped from a draft Penal Code that has been presented before the Rwandan parliament.

Before its presentation to the Lower House, the Bill in Article 169 recommended for imprisonment of three years for defamation and a fine of up to Rwf5 million — a sharp rise from the six-month jail term prescribed in the current law.

The harsh penalty had been proposed by the Law Reform Commission and the Ministry of Justice, which oversaw revision of the Penal Code before it was presented to the Parliamentary Committee on Political and Gender Affairs for discussion.

The committee’s chairperson, Alfred Rwasa Kayiranga, said that they agreed to drop the defamation Article from the draft, but it does not mean that journalists will go unpunished if found guilty of defamation.

“Defamation will not be a penal offence but it will be followed and investigated as a civil offence. It does not mean that we have ignored the history of our country, but we see that it is in the best interest of our country to make it a civil offense,” he told parliament Thursday.

Minister for Justice Johnston Busingye wrote on Twitter: “Defamation is still a criminal offence under the 2012 Penal Code. It has been dropped from the penal code Bill, now under consideration by parliament. It will cease being a criminal offence once the new law is passed by parliament and enacted into law as is.”

However, two other contentious Articles on defamation were retained in the Bill and could be passed by parliament in the coming days.

Article 232 of the Bill says that insults or defamation against the president will attract a prison sentence of up to seven years and a fine of up to Rwf7 million ($8190).

Article 152 also criminalises defamation of religious ceremonies with a term of imprisonment of up to three months.