25 September 2023

RWANDA: Cartoonists draw jail sentences

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Drawing cartoons or writing “humiliating” articles about Government officials is now a crime in Rwanda.

Journalists say the law will greatly affect work that is meant to hold public officials, including Cabinet members, to account.

Defaming Rwanda’s Head of State, President, Paul Kagame has long been illegal, bringing penalties of five to seven years in prison and a US$11,000 (A$15,500) fine.

It was not immediately clear whether the law will affect people who post on social media.

A cartoonist who breaks the law faces up to two years in prison and a fine of up to US$1,500 (A$2,100).

If the cartoon targets a Member of Parliament or top-ranking PS employee, the penalty doubles.

An official at the Ministry of Justice, unhappy with the new law, asked who would determine whether someone had been humiliated.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorised to speak on the Ministry’s behalf.

Executive Secretary of the Rwanda Journalists Association, Gonza Muganwa said the group would seek legal interpretations and advise members accordingly.

An example of one cartoon that might now be illegal is pictured here.

“In the trade of journalism, cartoons are by nature humorous and therefore easy for leaders to perceive them negatively or as humiliating even when they are not,” Mr Muganwa said.

Rwanda has decriminalised defamation in general — the result of years of advocacy by the media and dialogue with the Government.

Human rights groups have long criticised the criminalisation of media offences as being aimed at suppressing independent media.

Kigali, 1 October 2018

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