Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
There were numerous reports the government committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. For example, according to media reports, on April 13, Kigali attorney Donat Mutunzi disappeared after leaving for work. His family made repeated inquiries of police but was unable to confirm his arrest until April 18. At that time a police officer reportedly told them that Mutunzi was suspected of having defamed President Kagame by circulating false information on the internet. On April 22, prosecutors told an attorney and friend of the Mutunzi family that Mutunzi had been accused of rape. On April 23, police reported Mutunzi had committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. An examination of the body revealed severe wounds on the face and temples. Mutunzi’s family members told human rights advocates they believed Mutunzi had been beaten and strangled while in custody.
As of September 14, the government had not completed its investigation into 2017 Human Rights Watch (HRW) allegations that police or other security forces had killed 37 individuals between 2016 and 2017 for a variety of petty crimes, including theft of bananas, fishing with illegal nets, and unlawful border crossings. In 2017 Minister of Justice Johnston Busingye publicly called the HRW report “fake news.”
There were several reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities.
On October 7, United Democratic Forces-Inkingi (FDU-Inkingi) Vice President Boniface Twagirimana disappeared from Mpanga prison. A government spokesperson told press that Twagirimana and another prisoner had escaped by climbing over the prison wall. The FDU-Inkingi disputed this account and alleged foul play by government authorities, noting that authorities had transferred Twagirimana to Mpanga prison just five days earlier. The party released a press statement saying reliable sources inside the prison had indicated that security agents had taken Twagirimana away in a vehicle. As of November 6, Twagirimana’s whereabouts remained unknown.
Domestic organizations cited a lack of capacity and independence to investigate security-sector abuses, including reported enforced disappearances.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices, but there were numerous reports of abuse of detainees by police, military, and National Intelligence and Security Services (NISS) officials.
On September 27, the government enacted an updated penal code that prescribes 20 to 25 years’ imprisonment for any person convicted of torture. The law mandates that when torture is committed by a public official in the course of his or her duties, the penalty for conviction is life imprisonment.
As of September 14, the government had not conducted an investigation into 104 cases of illegally detained individuals who were in many cases reportedly tortured in unofficial military detention centers between 2010 and 2016, as documented by a 2017 HRW report. According to the report, military intelligence personnel and army soldiers employed torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment to obtain confessions before transferring the individuals to formal detention facilities. Detainees described asphyxiation, electric shocks, mock executions, severe beatings, and other mistreatment. HRW observed the trials of multiple individuals who alleged being tortured at unofficial military detention centers, including the Kami and the Mukamira military camps; a military base known as the “Gendarmerie” in Rubavu; and detention centers in Bigogwe, Mudende, and Tumba. According to the HRW report, many of the individuals told judges they had been illegally detained and tortured, but HRW was “not aware of any judges ordering an investigation into such allegations or dismissing evidence obtained under torture.” There were no reported prosecutions of SSF personnel for torture.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Conditions at prisons and unofficial military detention centers ranged from harsh and life-threatening to meeting international standards. The government took steps to make improvements in some prisons, but conditions varied widely among facilities.
Domestic civil society organizations reported impediments for persons with disabilities, including lack of sign language interpreters at police stations and detention centers.
Physical Conditions: Physical conditions in prisons operated by the Rwanda Correctional Service (RCS) were generally considered adequate. There were no major concerns regarding inmate abuse. Convicted persons and individuals in pretrial detention in RCS prisons were fed once per day, and family members were allowed to deposit funds so that convicts and detainees could purchase additional food at prison canteens. Authorities held men and women separately in similar conditions, and authorities generally separated pretrial detainees from convicted prisoners, although there were numerous exceptions due to the large number of detainees awaiting trial. Overcrowding was common in police stations and detention centers, and poor ventilation often led to high temperatures. According to the RCS, the prison population rose by approximately 15 percent, from fewer than 52,000 inmates in 2015 to more than 61,000 in August, which greatly exacerbated prison overcrowding. There were reports that prison overcrowding remained an issue.
In contrast, conditions were generally harsh and life threatening in unofficial military detention centers, according to a 2017 HRW report. HRW reported that in addition to experiencing torture, individuals detained at such centers suffered from limited access to food, water, and health care.
Transit centers often lacked separate facilities for children. According to HRW, officials held children together with adults in the Muhanga, Mudende, and Gikondo transit centers.
The law does not allow children older than age three to remain with their incarcerated mothers.
The government held five prisoners of the Special Court for Sierra Leone in a purpose-built detention center that the United Nations deemed met international standards for incarceration of prisoners convicted by international criminal tribunals.
Administration: The RCS investigated reported abuses by corrections officers, and the same hierarchical structure existed in police and security forces; there was no independent institution charged with investigating abuses or punishing perpetrators.
Detainees held at the Iwawa Rehabilitation and Vocational Development Center did not have the right to appeal their detentions to judicial authorities.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions on a limited basis by diplomats and the International Committee of the Red Cross. At times, however, it restricted access to specific prisoners and did not permit monitors to visit undeclared detention centers and certain military intelligence facilities. The government permitted monitoring of prison conditions and trials of individuals whom the UN Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) had transferred to Rwandan national jurisdiction for trials related to the 1994 genocide, per agreement with the MICT.
In June the UN Subcommittee on Prevention of Torture (SPT) formally cancelled its visit to the country. In October 2017 the visit originally was suspended due to obstructions imposed by the government such as limiting access to places of detention. On June 1, the UN assistant secretary-general wrote to the government concerning the lack of assurances given to the SPT that those interviewed or contacted during the visit would not face intimidation or reprisals.
Journalists could access prisons with a valid press card but required permission from the RCS commissioner to take photographs or interview prisoners or guards.
Improvements: Observers credited the RCS with continuing to take steps to improve prison conditions and eradicate abuses in formal detention facilities. In July the government closed the Kigali Central “1930” Prison, the oldest prison in the country, and moved remaining prisoners to a newer facility in Mageragere. The updated penal code removed provisions allowing solitary confinement of prisoners.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution provides for freedom of expression, including for the press “in conditions prescribed by the law,” but the government severely restricted this right. Journalists reported government officials questioned, threatened, and at times arrested journalists who expressed views deemed critical of the government on sensitive topics.
The Rwanda Media Commission (RMC), a self-regulatory body, sometimes intervened on journalists’ behalf. Some journalists reported the RMC lost its independence following the 2015 ouster and subsequent exile of its elected chairperson Fred Muvunyi. Journalists reported all positions on the RMC board were filled in close consultation with the government and called into question the board’s independence.
Freedom of Expression: There were no official restrictions on individuals’ right to criticize the government publicly or privately on policy implementation and other issues, but broad interpretation of provisions in the penal code had a chilling effect on such criticism. The government generally did not tolerate criticism of the presidency and government policy on security, human rights, and other matters deemed sensitive. On occasion, journalists who criticized the government were later arrested on charges unrelated to their work. For example, on September 10, media reported police had detained independent journalist Robert Mugabe and were questioning him regarding allegations that he had engaged in sexual relations with a 17-year-old girl. Earlier in the month, Mugabe had used his Twitter account to question the results of the 2015 constitutional referendum and 2017 presidential election and to criticize the government for having arrested opposition politician Diane Rwigara. Mugabe had also reported that police had harassed him in 2017 by summoning him for questioning on a daily basis during the course of two weeks and that he had been accused of committing treason and threatening state security after criticizing the government in 2016.
In March, Joseph Nkusi, a founding member of the Ishema party, was convicted of inciting civil disobedience and spreading rumors and sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment by the Kigali High Court. Nkusi moved to Norway in 2009 where he applied for asylum and started a blog that was blocked by the Rwandan government. In 2016 he was deported back to his country of origin where he was arrested and charged. A date for his appeal had not been set by year’s end.
Laws prohibiting divisionism, genocide ideology, and genocide denial were broadly applied and discouraged citizens from expressing viewpoints that could be construed as promoting societal divisions. The law prohibits making use of speech, writing, or any other act that divides the populace or may set them against each other or cause civil unrest because of discrimination. Conviction of “instigating divisions” is punishable by five to seven years’ imprisonment and fines of 500,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($575 to $1,150). Authorities applied the laws broadly, including to silence political dissent and to shut down investigative journalism. The law also prohibits spreading “false information or harmful propaganda with intent to cause public disaffection against the government,” for which conviction is punishable by seven to 10 years’ imprisonment. The government investigated and prosecuted individuals accused of threatening or harming genocide survivors and witnesses or of espousing genocide ideology. For example, in July a court sentenced Leopold Munyakazi to nine years in prison for genocide denial. As evidence prosecutors cited a presentation Munyakazi had delivered abroad in which he described the events of 1994 as a civil war rather than a genocide.
In September the government enacted a revised genocide ideology law that replaced an earlier 2013 law. Like the previous version, the updated law incorporated international definitions for genocide and outlined the scope of what constitutes “genocide ideology” and related offenses. Specifically, the law provides that any person who denies, minimizes, or justifies the 1994 genocide is liable to a prison term of five to seven years and a fine of 500,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($575 to $1,150). Authorities applied the statute broadly, and there were numerous reports of its use to silence persons critical of government policy.
The RNP reported significantly fewer individuals arrested during the April genocide commemoration period for spreading genocide ideology than in the preceding year.
Press and Media Freedom: Vendors sold both private and government-owned newspapers published in English, French, and Kinyarwanda. According to the Rwanda Governance Board, there were 40 newspapers, journals, and other publications registered with the government, although fewer than 10 published regularly. Sporadically published independent newspapers maintained positions in support of, or critical of, the government but a lack of advertisement revenue and funds remained serious challenges to continuing operations. Most independent newspapers opted not to publish print editions and released their stories online instead. There were 36 radio stations (six government-owned and 30 independent) and more than 16 television stations, according to the board. Independent media reported a difficult operating environment and highlighted the reluctance of the business community to advertise on radio stations that might be critical of the government.
Media professionals reported government officials sought to influence reporting and warned journalists against reporting information deemed sensitive or critical of the government.
The law provides journalists the freedom to investigate, express opinions, and “seek, receive, give, and broadcast information and ideas through any media.” The law explicitly prohibits censorship of information, but censorship occurred. The laws restrict these freedoms if journalists “jeopardize the general public order and good morals, an individual’s right to honor and reputation in the public eye and to the right to inviolability of a person’s private life and family.” By law authorities may seize journalists’ material and information if a “media offense” occurs but only under a court order. Journalists reported authorities often seized journalists’ material and equipment without a court order. Courts may compel journalists to reveal confidential sources in the event of an investigation or criminal proceeding. Persons wanting to start a media outlet must apply with the “competent public organ.” All media rights and prohibitions apply to persons writing for websites.
Violence and Harassment: In July Reporters Without Borders reported that, while there have been fewer abuses against journalists in recent years because most of the outspoken journalists have either fled abroad or have learned to censor themselves, the government continued to use threats, arrests, and physical violence to silence media outlets and journalists. For example, in May police arrested outspoken journalist John Williams Ntwali and interrogated him for 10 hours before releasing him. Ntwali had previously maintained a blog that was critical of the government. In July journalist Jean Bosco Kabakura fled the country after receiving threats related to his publication of an article examining the roles of police, military, and civilian authorities in the shooting of refugees from the Kiziba refugee camp earlier in the year. Several other journalists who fled in prior years remained outside the country.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: The law allows the government to restrict access to some government documents and information, including information on individual privacy and information or statements deemed to constitute defamation. Reporters Without Borders reported that journalists routinely censored themselves to avoid being targeted by the government.
Radio stations broadcast some criticism of government policies, including on popular citizen call-in shows; however, criticism tended to focus on provincial leaders and local implementation of policies rather than on the president or ruling party leadership. Some radio stations, including Radio 1, Radio Isango Star, and Radio Salus, had regular call-in shows that featured discussion of government programs or policies. For example, on June 13, Radio Isango Star broadcast a program in which government officials and human rights advocates discussed the government’s progress in implementing recommendations made as part of the country’s Universal Periodic Review. During the official campaign season in advance of the September parliamentary elections, the national public broadcaster interviewed independent candidates and representatives from all participating political parties. Candidates and political parties reported they received fair and equal treatment and were allowed to broadcast political advertisements.
Libel/Slander Laws: The updated penal code enacted in September included provisions that made it illegal to use words, gestures, writings, or cartoons to humiliate members of parliament, members of the cabinet, security officers, or any other public servant, with sentences for conviction of one to two years’ imprisonment and fines of 500,000 to one million Rwandan francs ($575 to $1,150). The law also states that insulting or defaming the president is punishable by five to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of five million to seven million Rwandan francs ($5,750 to $8,050). Defamation of foreign and international officials and dignitaries remains illegal under the updated law, with sentences if convicted of three to five years’ imprisonment. Unlike the previous penal code, however, the code enacted in September does not contain provisions criminalizing public defamation and public insult in general.
National Security: Under media laws, journalists must refrain from reporting items that violate “confidentiality in the national security and national integrity” and “confidentiality of judicial proceedings, parliamentary sessions, and cabinet deliberations in camera.” Authorities used these laws to arrest and intimidate journalists covering politically sensitive topics and matters under government investigation.
The media law includes the right of all citizens to “receive, disseminate, or send information through the internet,” including the right to start and maintain a website. All provisions of the media laws apply to web-based publications. Restrictions such as website blocking, however, remained in place. The government continued to monitor email and internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could engage in the peaceful expression of views online, including by email and social media, but were subject to monitoring. As in the previous year, there were no confirmed reports monitoring led to detention or interrogation of individuals by the SSF. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 22 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
Government-run social media accounts were used to debate and at times intimidate individuals who posted online comments considered critical of the government.
The government blocked access within the country to several websites critical of its policies. Such sites included websites of the Rwandan diaspora such as Umuvugizi and Le Profete and online newspapers such as Ireme.com as well as the news blogs of some independent journalists living in Rwanda.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
The government generally did not restrict academic freedom or cultural events, but because academic officials frequently suspended outspoken secondary and university students for divisionism or engaging in genocide ideology, students and professors practiced self-censorship. Local think tanks deferred to government officials in selecting subjects for research, and authorities often prevented or delayed the publication of studies that cast the government in a negative light. The government requires visiting academics to receive official permission to conduct research; academics reported occasional harassment and denial of permission to conduct research on political issues, child labor, refugees, human rights problems, or the genocide.