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President must reject draft penal code, says ARTICLE 19

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - Kigali, 28 November 2011 - In a legal analysis released today, ARTICLE 19 highlights how the Draft Penal Code for Rwanda is fundamentally flawed from a freedom of expression perspective. Both houses of the Rwandan Parliament have already approved the Draft Penal Code, and it is now awaiting the signature of President Paul Kagame before it becomes law. Presented with the option of either accepting or rejecting this law, ARTICLE 19 urges President Kagame to guarantee freedom of expression in Rwanda by rejecting the law and returning it to Parliament for redrafting.

"President Kagame now has the opportunity to demonstrate his commitment to freedom of expression by rejecting the Draft Penal Code for Rwanda," said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Director for Eastern Africa.

"If enacted, this legislation will negate recent and pending media reforms to ensure the sector is independent, professional and sustainable. As such, it poses a serious threat to the protection of all other human rights in Rwanda," continued Maina.

ARTICLE 19 is seriously concerned about a number of provisions in this important piece of legislation that do not comply with international standards on freedom of expression, especially those relating to criminal defamation, protection of national security, access to reproductive health information and genocide ideology.

Offences in the Draft Penal Code, such as a number of severe criminal defamation penalties, invert international standards on freedom of expression and reputation and must be replaced with robust protection for freedom of speech. Several of these provisions provide heightened protections for officials, while others treat abstract nationalistic symbols, such as the national flag, anthem, or emblems and insignia as if they were people with reputations to defend. Criminal defamation provisions are always disproportionate restrictions on speech that have no legitimacy under international law.

The protection of national security and public order forms the basis of numerous other restrictions on free expression and association. These provisions restrict expression even where no connection to a national security or public order breach is demonstrated, and are therefore not necessary. Indeed, several of these provisions limit the freedom of individuals to discuss important aspects of public life; including military affairs and the Rwandan economy. Similar provisions also restrict the disclosure of state secrets and provide insufficient safeguards for journalists reporting on matters in the public interest.

Moreover, the Draft Penal Code even restricts women's access to reproductive health information, making it a crime to publicise information that may cause a woman to abort a pregnancy, even in circumstances where the Draft Penal Code provides that an abortion would be lawful.

Lastly, the Draft Penal Code entrenches provisions on "genocide ideology" that ARTICLE 19 had highlighted as weaknesses on several occasions since 2009. These provisions are extraordinarily broad, allowing the state to suppress discussion of history, politics and personal experience, particularly related to issues surrounding genocide. In addition, these provisions violate international human rights and humanitarian norms, and are likely to have an effect counterproductive to their purported aim.

In sum, ARTICLE 19 reminds President Kagame of his obligations under international human rights law, and urges him to renounce the Draft Penal Code.

Click here to read ARTICLE 19's legal analysis of the draft penal code

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