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Rwanda to normalize free legal service for journos

Free legal service will be given to journalists to safeguard freedom of expression and information, according to the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) on Thursday.According to the terms of the new deal signed between the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) and the Legal Aid Forum (LAF), Rwandan journalists will from now on enjoy free legal representation faced with lawsuits over their work.

Prior to the new deal, the legal problems that affected journalists led to defamation and issues over privacy, and accuracy of information.

Rwanda has officially decriminalised general defamation and press offences with the gazetting of the penal code that was officially published in August 2018.

In April 2019, there was widespread jubilation when Rwandan President Paul Kagame came out to assert that although he respected the ruling, he did not agree with the Supreme Court’s decision to maintain Article 236 of the Penal Code.

Article 236 says: “Any person who insults or defames the President of the Republic, commits an offense”.

After the ruling, the presidency issued a statement saying in part that: “The President…respects the independence of the judiciary and the recent Supreme Court decision to decriminalise the offences related to humiliation of public officials…,” but that “The President…takes issue with the decision to retain as criminal offences, insults or defamation against the Head of State, who is also a public official”.

During the signings on Thursday, the Executive Director of Legal Aid Forum (LAF), Andrews Kananga hinted on the importance of assisting such people to receive due process before the law.

“We don’t look at justice in the form of winning or losing a lawsuit. We look at justice in the form of due process – having a lawyer and being followed-up before the law,” he said.

Published on 10.02.2021

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