ARJ lauds revision of defamation law as a landmark to media freedoms
Written by: George Kalisa
Friday, September 28th, 2018, 1:56
The Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ) in a statement released September28 welcomed the decriminalisation of general defamation and press offences as a crucial step by the government of Rwanda on the journey to expand freedom of the press and free expression.
“Rwanda has officially decriminalised general defamation and press offences with the gazetting of the penal code- Law No. 68/2018 of 30/08/2018. The Rwanda Journalists Association (ARJ) recognises this very important step by the government of Rwanda as it is another major reform towards expanding freedom of the press and free expression in general,” the statement read in part.
“Decriminalisation of defamation and press offences is a culmination of many years of advocacy by the media fraternity and dialogue with government and other stakeholders. While the ARJ considers defamation a major ethical breach -the reason it is proscribed by the Journalists and Media Practitioners Code of Conduct -we uphold that related complaints should be handled by the Media Self-Regulatory Body (Rwanda Media Commission) and in other cases by civil restitution,” it added.
"We therefore welcome this part of the legislation and call on the public to continue utilizing the so far successful media self-regulation in arbitrating complaints arising from journalists' work".
But, the journalists’ body decried the gazetting of Article236 that criminalizes “insults or defamation against the President of the Republic” and article233 “humiliation of national authorities and persons in charge of public service” as oppressive to press freedoms and the journalists’ body has said it will consult and seek legal interpretation.
Insulting the President of the Republic like drawing of defamatory cartoons and of government authorities is punished by five to seven years in prison or paying a fine between USD5,750 and USD8,050 while humiliation of a government official is punished by imprisonment between one and two years or paying a fine oscillating between USD576 and 1,150 according to the latest official gazette released late yesterday.
“However, the ARJ is concerned with Articles 233 and 236 in the penal code relating to cartooning of politicians/public officials and defamation against the President of the Republic respectively. Going forward, the Association will carry out consultations and seek legal interpretations on if and how the two articles could affect press freedom and advise members accordingly,” said the statement.
“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 apublic service in the
performance or in connection with the performance of his/her duties, commits an offence,” says the new law.
“Upon conviction he/she is liable to imprisonment for a term of not less than one (1) year and less than two (2) years and a fine of not less than FRW 500,000 (approx USD570) and not more than FRW 1,000,000 (approx.USD1150),” adds the penal code.
“If contempt takes place during a session of the Parliament or if it is directed to any of the top ranking authorities, the penalties provided for under Paragraph One of this Article are doubled,” the law says
“Any person who insults or defames the President of the Republic, commits an offence. Upon conviction, he/she is liable to a term
imprisonment of not less than five (5) years and not more than seven (7) years and a fine of more than FRW 5,000,000 (approx.USD5,750) and not more than FRW 7,000,000 (approx.USD8,050),” the law adds.