Journalists are waiting with impatience the signature of the penal code by the president of the Republic. Some articles on defamation are still present in this draft of penal code already adopted by the former parliament.
The fight against criminal defamation is not yet over in Rwanda. The current draft of penal code to be signed soon by the president of Republic of Rwanda provides heavy punishments to journalists who will be charged by the court of defamation. One of articles, which are not pleasing media people, is the article 230. It is prohibiting cartoons that humiliate Members of parliament, ministers, other government authorities and security agencies. Gonzagua Muganwa, is the executive Secretary of ARJ (Association of Rwandan Journalists) . “It is like cartoons are prohibited in Rwanda while they are very important in journalism. We assume that authorities who suggested this article were not motivates by public interests," he regrets.
Ibambe Jean paul is a lawyer , he encourages journalists to write to his Excellency Paul Kagame before he signs to expose to him all challenges related to those articles in penal code. For him, there is a chance to be heard.
Punishments on defamation are too high
Heavy imprisonment of 2 years shall be given to journalists for defamation using cartoons of public servants. Also a fine of 1 million Rwandan francs (1,150 $) will be applied in for this offense.
For journalists this undermines the freedom of press and the governance.
Karegeya Jean Baptiste , a freelancer journalist thinks that if the penal code is signed like that, journalists will no longer report on the government’s functioning. The role of media as a bridge between government and citizens will not be possible. “Journalists will no longer focus on governance issues but on entertainment. This will prevents citizens to access to the information detained by authorities and will weaken the accountability," he said.
The associations of journalists and other partners conducted in December 2017 a campaign against criminal defamation. This contributed to remove article 169 on public defamation in the mentioned draft of penal code. Journalists and their organizations appreciated this progress. However, some media practitioners encourage journalists to continue the fight until the complete decriminalization of defamation.