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Rwandan media law fails to fully protect press freedom, group says

ARTICLE 19 notes that Law N°02/2013 on regulating media (Media law) adopted in Rwanda on 11 March 2013 provides some safeguards for freedom of the press but contains too many provisions which pose a threat to journalists and the independence of the media, including online media. This incomplete legal reform is particularly disappointing given the overall press freedom situation in the country, characterised by the existence of too many laws which are not in line with international standards on freedom of expression, and by the imprisonment of journalists on charges of libel, “genocide ideology”, undermining state security or giving false testimony.

“The revised law removes some of the obstacles to media freedom, but it does not go far enough to guarantee the independence of the media from the government.

Too many provisions are problematic. They ought to be reviewed and amended in line with international standards.

ARTICLE 19 also believes that the overall legal reform has not gone far enough. The government ought to decriminalise defamation and amend, as a matter of priority, the “divisionism” and “genocide ideology” laws, to bring them in line with international standards on freedom of expression.

The cases of imprisoned journalists, including Agnès Uwimana Nkusi, Saïdati Mukabibi, and Stanley Gatera should also be reviewed as a matter of urgency, with the view of securing their release.” said Henry Maina ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Director.

The new Media law presents a number of positive elements, including:

* Recognition of self regulation: Article 4 the Media Self Regulatory body regulates the conduct of journalists. This implies that it will set up journalistic professional standards. Article 15 empowers the same body to deal with violations of journalists' rights.

* Recognition of legal rights for journalists: These rights include the right to collect information; respect for the confidentiality of journalistic sources; and the right to call on any resourceful person to provide information. The law also lifts some restrictions that were placed on journalists, including prohibitions on “the use of unlawful methods to obtain or to disseminate information;” “neglecting essential information;” and “distorting ideas contained in an information or a text”. The law also recognises the rights to reply, rectification and correction, thus protecting the rights and interests of individuals.

* The media profession will be allowed to set professional standards. However, it must be noted that the state still imposes a legal definition of the duty of a journalist, which could prove to be problematic.

* There is now no requirement that journalists should hold particular academic qualifications.

* The law recognises a broader definition of who is a journalist, which allows freelancers to enjoy the same rights as employed journalists.

* Photo-journalists no longer require authorisation from the media authorities to perform their profession.

* The system of sanctions for the media has been liberalised, including the repeal of “suspension” and “closure of a publication” as penalties, both of which are disproportionate restrictions on the right to freedom of expression.

ARTICLE 19 notes that the law fails to meet international standards on a number of issues:

* The state retains control of the media through a series of authorisation requirements. Approval to launch a new media outlet must be granted by a state body. In addition to this, journalists are required to obtain accreditation in order to practice work. Whilst accreditation is to be given by the Media Self Regulatory Body rather than a state body, international standards are clear that there is no need for general accreditation, as this is an unjustified restriction of freedom of expression.

* The state defines legal duties required of a journalist. The law sets out several obligations for journalists, including to inform, to educate the population and promote leisure activities; to defend freedom of information and analyse and comment on information. The existence of legal obligations creates legal responsibility for failure to fulfill these obligations. ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the authorities may use these obligations to harass journalists. This concern is reinforced by a lack of clarity in the law about exactly who will enforce these obligations and how they will do that.

* The Media Law is not clear about what will constitute a legal restriction on the right to freedom of expression. Article 9 of the Media Law does not provide a clear explanation of when there will be a necessity to restrict media reporting.

* The confidentiality of journalistic sources is not adequately protected. According to the law, courts can require journalists to reveal their sources in any legal proceedings, rather than in only the most serious of criminal cases. The Media Law does not require courts to establish that there is no other reasonable alternative means available for obtaining that information before ordering the disclosure of a source.

* The state retains control of the internet. This threatens media pluralism and the free flow of information.

These limitations are concerning in view of the overall situation of press freedom in Rwanda. ARTICLE 19 is particularly concerned with the laws relating to “divisionism” and “genocide ideology” which include vague and overly broad provisions, and have been used to restrict freedom of expression, including freedom of the media, in Rwanda.

Furthermore, defamation remains a criminal offence in Rwanda.

ARTICLE 19 urges the Rwandese authorities to undertake a review of the “divisionism” and “genocide ideology” laws, to bring them into line with international standards on freedom of expression, and to decriminalise defamation.

More information:

For more media interviews please contact: Patrick Mutahi, Senior Programme Officer, Safety and Protection, ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa Email: [email protected] or call on +254 20 3862230/1/2

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