Rwandan media has raised concern about the government’s move to revise the media law, without involving the industry in the decision-making process.
The Rwanda Journalists Association says the recommendations they gave to the Law Reform Commission last year, including the decriminalising defamation, were ignored.
“The Law Reform Commission did not ask for our contribution but we still sent our input, including the importance of decriminalising defamation.
However, our recommendations were ignored,” said Gonza Muganwa, the executive secretary of the Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ).
He added that although criminal defamation is not limited to the media alone, its impact would mostly be felt by investigative journalists who would now be more restrained out of fear of being jailed.
The proposed penalties for defamation in the draft law are harsher with a maximum sentence of three years compared with the previous one year.
Sources at the Rwanda Governance Board (RGB), which overseas media development in the country, said they were not aware of any engagements between the board and the Law Reform Commission
RGB chief executive Anastase Shyaka was not available for comment by press time, neither were the Minister for Justice Johnston Busingye and State Minister for Constitutional and Legal Affairs Evode Uwizeyimana.
Last week, media groups were planning to present a petition to parliament against passing the new law in its current form.
The Bill introduces a new offence of “insults or defamation against the president,” which attracts five to seven years in prison and fines ranging between Rwf5 million ($5,865) and Rwf7 million ($8,211).
Drawing a cartoon that “humiliates” public officials can also attract a jail term of up to two years. Editing pictures without stating that they are edited is also a criminal offence under article 165 and can lead to imprisonment of up to one year and a fine not exceeding Rwf1 million ($1,173).