Rwanda: Journalist found guilty on defamation charges

ARTICLE 19 is disappointed by the conviction of Burasa Jean Gualbert, Managing Editor of Rushyashya Newspaper on defamation charges without effectively considering his fair comment defense. The journalist has been given a 6 month suspended sentence and fined 3.2 million Rwanda Francs (approximately $4,640USD) by the Nyarugenge primary court.

“Following the introduction of media self-regulation with the creation of the Rwanda Media Commission on 13 March 2013, this is the first case filed in court in which a journalist has been charged in relation to a newspaper article. The case sets a dangerous precedent for future defamation cases due to being heard in the first instance by a court rather than being resolved through the regulatory body. It is feared that the case will have a negative impact on press freedom,” said Henry Maina, ARTICLE 19 Director for Eastern Africa.

Burasa was accused of defamation after the publication of an article critical of a documentary produced by Muramira Regis, entitled Kera habayeho (What happened in the past). The documentary was about the history of football in Rwanda. Muramira claimed that the article was defamatory and filed a case with police. Burasa was charged with violation of Article 288 of the Penal Code, Law No. 901/2012 of 2/5/2012. As part of the same case, Muramira also sued Burasa for damages of 15million Rwanda Francs (approximately $21,770USD).

“Since the alleged defamatory comments were published in a newspaper, the Rwanda Media Commission should have had first responsibility for resolving the dispute. Media Law (2013) clearly states that the court should intervene only when one or more party are not satisfied with decision of the media self-regulation body,” added Maina.

ARTICLE 19 calls upon the Rwanda government to repeal criminal defamation laws as civil law provides adequate protection for reputation. The imposition of criminal penalties for defamation has a chilling effect on free expression and leads to self-censorship by the media and by individuals.

Further, we urge that all cases related to media content are properly considered and decided upon by the Rwanda Media Commission before they are referred to the Courts.