Rwanda has passed a law that criminalizes statements and publications deemed humiliating by government officials.
“Any person who, verbally, by gestures or threats, in writings or cartoons, humiliates a member of parliament when exercising his/her mandate, a member of the Cabinet, security officers or any other person in charge of a public service in the performance or in connection with the performance of his/her duties, commits an offence,” states the law which was passed last week.
The law stipulates an up to two years prison sentence and a fine of up to $1,145 with the penalty doubling if it’s about a member of parliament or top government official, reports local media.
Paul Kagame, who has been described as an authoritarian leader, already has a law that criminalizes defamation against him and attracts five to seven years in prison and an $8,140 fine, reports Associated Press.
Defamation is criminal is Rwanda and media organisations including the Rwanda Journalists Association have criticized the laws that stifle dissent and suppresses the media.
A justice ministry official who spoke to Associated Press on condition of anonymity questioned how the law will determine whether someone has been humiliated and who will decide.
The Rwandan government is facing a series of allegations of the disappearance of opposition figures as well as the imprisonment of those who oppose the president.
Kagame gave clemency to 2,140 convicts, including one of the two women who had tried to run against him in the 2010 polls, Victoire Ingabire Umuhoza.
Umuhoza was sentenced to 15 years at the Kigali Central Prison for terrorism and threatening national security.
She had in 2010 returned home from a 16-year exile to vie for the presidency against Kagame, only to be arrested three months after she landed in Rwanda. The arrest came after she was considered a threat to Kagame’s government following her speech honouring the victims of genocide.
She had also been accused of collaborating with the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR) in a bid to destabilise the government.
Another Kagame opposition is latest political prisoner Diane Rwigara, who is behind bars over allegations of an insurgency. She is the only other woman who tried to vie against President Kagame.
Just days after she announced her candidature, she was hit with a series of scandals including the release of nude photos believed to be hers; errors and inadequate signatures on her presidential form and raids on their house.
She has still not been charged.