Rwanda: censorship reaches a scary levelJean Mitari | Category: News
On Tuesday, August 6 2012, we learned from the voice of the Rwandan Minister of the Interior that the Kigali regime adopted a new law aimed at monitoring phone calls, exchange of e-mail messages and website surfing made from inside Rwanda.
Divisionism or genocide ideology were so far the most common arguments put forward by the RPF regime to discredit any form of criticism or opposition and restrict civil liberties. Today, in a context of intense international pressure following the UN report accusing the ruling party of supporting the M23 rebellion, theKigali regime gets tough and steps up with regard to censorship of information.
The Minister of the Interior, Mussa Fazil Harerimana, told the pro-government newspaper, The Kigali Today: “It will now be punishable in Rwanda to read information that is not approved by the authority and such an offense [Editor's note, reading this type of information] will be regarded as complicity” (itegeko rizajya rinahana umuntu usoma inyandiko zitemewe na Leta kandi iryo kosa rizafatwa nk’ubufatanyacyaha) . The minister added that “the security services are now allowed to listen to all phone calls and read emails between individuals [Editor's note, even without prior authorization from justice] and prosecute anyone who violates the law through his/her communication”. What is surprising is that the law does not specify the type of offenses that the adoption of this new law is intended to suppress. On the question of whether this law will not make as a lot of innocent victims because many people borrow and lend their computers and mobile phones, the minister said “it is up to each and everyone to ensure the good use of their communication devices.”
Internet censorship is increasingly taking place inRwandawhere it was recently reported that some websites, especially the ones that belong to opposition parties and individuals that are most critical of the regime, were inaccessible or were the subject of repeated cyber attacks.
With this new law establishing the monitoring of what people write online and say on the phone, Rwandahas joined the club of Internet predators. At the foremost of these predator states are Chinaand Iran, the countries considered as the most advanced in terms of Internet filtering and monitoring Internet users. This new law is in addition to many other draconian laws adopted by the Rwandan government in recent years, and represents a serious threat to freedom of information, where citizens cannot freely express themselves online knowing they are being monitored. This law also violates Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which Rwanda is a signatory and which stipulates that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression: this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers “.
In 2011 alone, Reporters Without Borders listed worldwide around 200 arrests of bloggers and Internet users. WithRwandarecently adopting these laws aimed at monitoring and filtering the Internet, the above risk assessment is surely deemed to increase.
To enforce this censorship, Rwandadecided to surcharge all incoming calls from abroad starting from July 1, 2012. This measure was introduced following a request to all mobile phone users to register with the police. Anyone receiving a call from abroad must now pay the equivalent of $ 0.35 (232.5 RW Francs) per minute according to igihe.com, an online newspaper close to the regime. However, according to reliable information received by Jambonews, this surcharge over international incoming calls has been underestimated and could reach more than $0.50 per minute depending on phone service providers. Before July 1, 2012 all incoming calls regardless of whether they are international or domestic were completely free.
According to the 2011 UNDP report, 76.8% of Rwandans live on less than $1.25 per day which means that this new law would make it difficult for most of the people to answer an international incoming call while for many Rwandans this is the only way to stay in contact with several family members living abroad
According to several observers, the surcharge over incoming calls represents a new tool for the Kigaliregime aimed at strengthening censorship by preventing Rwandan citizens from receiving information from their friends and/orrelatives who live abroad. Given that in Rwanda the independent press was muzzled, many Rwandans are used to receive information on what is going on in their country through these relatives who live abroad where the information circulates freely. Surcharging phone services to the already poor households proves the regime’s determination to censor information.
This intensification of censorship inRwandacomes at a time when the regime is pinned down by the international community for its alleged support to the M23 rebels, who are accused of committing atrocities in eastern DRC.
Several Rwandans who live inBelgiumand who have relatives living inRwanda, especially in Gisenyi, have confirmed to Jambonews that the surcharge over in coming phone calls was mostly related to the mutiny of M23 rebels. According to them, the inhabitants of Gisenyi often assist to columns of military trucks repatriating soldiers who have been injured or killed on the battlefield in DRC.
By allowing these baseless surcharges over incoming calls to take place and by controlling the surfing of internet, the Rwandan authorities would like to prevent the information on the repatriation of these dead bodies or injured soldiers from leaking into the news.
Translation by A. Tuyishime