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Rwanda: Journalist Sentenced for Article Deemed Divisive

(Apr. 4, 2013) Rwanda’s High Court recently confirmed the lower court sentence of a newspaper editor to one year of imprisonment and a fine of about US$50 for expressing ethnically divisive ideas. Stanley Gatera, chief editor of Umusingi, had lodged an appeal of the first court decision, taken in the Gasabo Intermediate Court on November 14, 2012. (Appeals Court Confirms One Year Prison Sentence for Journalist Gatera, RNA (Mar. 28, 2013), World News Connection online subscription database; Rwandan Journalist Sentenced to One Year in Jail, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) website (Nov. 15, 2012).)

The original case resulted from a complaint about an article published in Umusingi on June 28, 2012, entitled “The Beginning of Problems for Men Attracted to the Beauty of Tutsi Women.” The women’s group Twese Hamwe Association contacted the National Commission for the Fight Against Genocide, asking for prosecution of the author. In his defense, Gatera asserted that the article was an opinion piece and that he was not the author. He further argued that it was up to the court to determine who had written the article. (Rwandan Journalist Sentenced to One Year in Jail, supra.)

Gatera was convicted of inciting “divisionism” and gender discrimination, based on the article’s statement that men who marry Tutsi women just for their beauty may have regrets. (Id.) In its affirmation of the lower court decision, the High Court stated that there were divisive ideas in the article and that Gatera as editor had the responsibility to read the piece and could have decided against publishing it. (Appeals Court Confirms One Year Prison Sentence for Journalist Gatera, supra.)

Rwanda’s Criminal Code, as amended after the genocide in 1994, criminalizes defaming, insulting, or manifesting hatred against a group of people based on their origin, race, or religion, with imprisonment for from one month to one year and a fine. (Code Pénal du Rwanda, first in force Jan. 1, 1980, art. 393, WIPO RESOURCES [click on pdf or html version].)

The CPJ, which describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit organization that promotes press freedom worldwide” (About CPJ, CPJ website (last visited Apr. 1, 2013)), urged the court to release Gatera after his first conviction. Tom Rhodes, a CPJ consultant for East Africa, stated “[r]eaders may have been offended by this column, but that does not mean Stanley Gatera should be put in prison.” (Rwandan Journalist Sentenced to One Year in Jail, supra.)